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Giving Till It Feels Good

Approximately Two Thousand years ago, a very wise man said, "It is more blessed to give than receive." 

(Hint: He's celebrating another birthday this Christmas.) And, although we often behave as a nation of individuals who hinge their happiness upon the latest acquisition, there seems to be sufficient enough reason to resurrect the old Jesus quote. In fact, there may be several good reasons.

First, we live in a county that continues to emphasize philanthropic giving, even in the midst of an economic downturn. In fact, from all indications, charitable donations in Sarasota County are on THE INCREASE contrary to all logical expectations.


We have people who sponsor education, the arts, palliative care and so much more. Our hospitals boast some of the highest rates of volunteerism. Service clubs, like the Sertoma Club of Venice, feature volunteer "manhours" that dwarf clubs in much larger cities across the country. In extreme acts of generosity, some people even volunteer to write columns in local magazines!

Why do we give? Purportedly because we care about others. But there are other reasons, too. Some people give because it's the right thing to do, others because they are commanded to do so by someone they respect. But giving makes sense for another reason---it feels especially good.

Abraham Lincoln said, "When I do good, I feel good; when I do bad, I feel bad and that is my religion." It seems that Mr. Lincoln's subjective impressions may be quite common. You see, psychological research is confirming the notion of the "blessed" giver. To wit, the Journal "Science" reports that people who spent money on others experienced greater happiness than those who spent money on themselves. It appears that when a person gives to others, the brain doles out increased levels of dopamine, the neurotransmitter most closely linked with pleasure.

In fact, Just thinking about giving seems to have a physiological impact. In the 1980s, the

renowned Harvard behavioral psychologist David McClelland discovered that Harvard students who were simply asked to watch a film about Mother Teresa’s work tending to orphans in Calcutta – an example of profound compassion-- showed significant increases in the protective antibody salivary immunoglobulin A (S-IgA) over those watching a neutral film. McClelland termed this the “Mother Teresa Effect.” Moreover, S-IgA remained high for an hour after the film in those subjects who were asked to focus their minds on times when they had loved or been loved. Thus, “dwelling on love” strengthened the immune system (McClelland, et al., 1988, p. 345).

Furter, in a study that began in 1956, 427 wives and mothers who lived in upstate

New York were followed for 30 years by researchers at Cornell University. The researchers were able to conclude that, regardless of number of children, marital status, occupation, education, or social class, those women who engaged in volunteer work to help other people at least once a week lived longer and had better physical functioning, even after adjusting for baseline health status (Moen, et al., 1989).


One study that has impressed the research community was begun by David Spiegel of

Stanford University. He randomly assigned women with advanced metastatic breast cancer to either routine care or routine care plus a cancer patient support group, which provided a safe and caring setting for discussion of issues. Spiegel expected that the support group would enhance patients’ mood, but not survival. As it turned out, the women in the support group survived twice as long (18 months compared with nine months) as the women without support (Spiegel, et al., 1989). Since participation in a support group includes receiving support as well as an immense amount of giving to others, mainly through attentive listening and compassion, this study also points toward the benefits of helping others.

In fact, Harvard Psychology Professor, Dr. Ellen Langer states, "when you give a gift, it makes you feel generous, it makes you feel in control, it's good for your self-esteem..."


Henry David Thoreau added his own spin on the importance of kindness and generosity when he stated, "Love is the only investment that never fails."


Take that, E. F. Hutton!


So Merry Christmas, Happy Channukah, Kwaanza or whatever you choose to celebrate. And rather than implore you to sacrifice your desires and put everyone else's wish list above your own, I have a different challenge for you: do something incredibly selfish this holiday season for a change---give generously to others.


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