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  • Frank DiGiovanni

“It's better to give than receive.”

Updated: Feb 5


You’ve probably heard that before and maybe kind of rolled your eyes about it but think about it for a second and specifically a young child you gave a gift to, for whatever reason. Think about how that child reacted… most likely with explosive happiness and utter joy… Now, how did YOU feel watching that happen? Probably felt pretty darn good. But WHY you felt that way isn’t because that child got “EXACTLY WHAT I WANTED!!!!" Nope, it’s all down to the chemistry in your brain.


There is a term called “giver’s glow” or “helper’s high” is associated with the mesolimbic pathway, sometimes referred to as the reward pathway, is a dopaminergic pathway in the brain.[1] This pathway starts at the top of the spinal column as it blends into the base of the brain and is what helps your brain recognize rewarding stimuli. Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University, states that philanthropy, “doles out several different happiness chemicals, including dopamine, endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria and oxytocin, which is associated with tranquility, serenity or inner peace.” Dopamine and other endorphins help us focus, strive and also helps us find things interesting…Including that cookie you ate or movie you “LOVED!” Cast your mind back roughly 1.5 billion years ago and the most basic life back then. This life found their version of “joy” from things like eating, reproducing and social interactions. Fast forward to today and now you understand one reasons your dog is thrilled to see you after being away is because its brain is flooded by the “feel good” chemical that has become associated with your presence. Some experts suggest that evolution isn’t merely the survival of the fittest individual but is dependent on the group or community living and working together. This evolutionary theory of group selection could help explain why the brain responds to generosity in a similar way as it does to behaviors necessary for life. [2]


The helper’s high isn’t just about giving or donating, it’s also about the feeling it helps create in others. Know someone who’s very generous with their money, time and talents? Most likely they are the encouraging type, helping people to get better in whatever way they can. That feeling is contagious, knowing that someone is there to help push, help and guide you. You feel good, at least I know I have in a similar situation. You want to help people around you feel better. This can also be associated with the survival of the fittest; a term you might be aware of. But what about a group? As the group thrives, so does the individual, an essential aspect of survival. This giver’s glow also helps your body physically!


Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University conducted a study in 2013 which concluded that people who volunteer a mere four hours per week were 40% less likely to develop high blood pressure! [3] And with an estimated 65 million Americans suffering from hypertension, the simple act of giving can be a non-pharmaceutical method of lowering that risk! Among other health benefits to charitable activities, those coping with depression have reported their symptoms lessen. volunteering isn’t the only method of good-for-you giving. Charitable donations trigger the mesolimbic system in much the same way. Even thinking about giving money to a meaningful cause engages this evolutionary reward system, according to research led by Jorge Moll of the D’Or Institute for Research and Education in Brazil.[2]


So, you want to give your time, money or help and you do, GREAT! Chances are you’re going to feel better after it’s done, however it’s how you feel about that action that make an impact. “If it’s a meaningful donation, it can have a significant impact,” Post continues, “but if it’s trivial or just grudging or whatever, probably not.” [2] If your heart is genuinely in the action or donation you’re giving, that “helper’s high” or “giver’s glow” is going to be all the more powerful and could help you strive to do it again. There is a quote from the Bill Murray movie Scrooged, that sums up this feeling associated with giving and volunteering...


You have to do something. You have to take a chance. You do have to get involved. There are people that are having... having trouble making their miracle happen. There are people that don't have enough to eat, or people that are cold. You can go out and say hello to these people. You can take an old blanket out of the closet and say "Here!", you can make them a sandwich and say "Oh, by the way, here!"… It can happen every day, you've just gotta WANT that feeling. And if you like it and you want it, you'll get greedy for it! You'll want it every day of your life and it can happen to you!
A volunteer helping remake the paths through SMLI's wood as part of an Eagle Scout project

Want to know how you can help SMLI? The AmazonSmile Foundation will donate 0.5% of the purchase price on eligible items to The Science Museum of Long Island. Simply visit smile.amazon.com/ch/11-6038976 and sign in to your account. That’s it! Now, each time you shop at Amazon.com. Then just check the header image for the AmazonSmile logo and that the Science Museum of Long Island has been selected as your charity of choice. Don’t want to do that? SMLI eagerly accepts people to volunteer their time. If you'd prefer to not do that, you can also donate directly to SMLI through our Donation page.



There are countless organizations that could use your help, time or expertise. Give or do for them and you’ll know that “helper’s high”. Post says, “On a scale of 1 to 10 – and 10's a really powerful drug like insulin in the treatment of diabetes – this stuff is probably up there around a 7 or 8. And the amazing thing is, you don’t need to go to a drugstore for it." [2]

[1] www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3025434/ [2] https://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2015/05/01/what-generosity-does-to-your-brain-and-life-expectancy [3] www.cmu.edu/news/stories/archives/2013/june/june13_volunteeringhypertension.html

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