The Neuroscience of Giving

Why does volunteering feel so good?

We can talk about reciprocal giving; helping now to make sure services are there when we need them. We can talk about noble causes and commitment to bettering the community. And this is all true, but there is a more direct biological answer, and it lays in the neuroscience of giving.

At it’s core human behaviour and response is driven by hormones. A hormone is a chemical messenger with a specific task in the body. Hormones regulate the body’s growth, the physical and chemical processes of the body, and sexual development and function . When a gland secretes a hormone it enters the blood system to circulate throughout the body and activate target cells.. The human body secretes and circulates some 50 different hormones at any given time.

Now, utilising MRI’s, the latest neuroscience reveals that doing something “good” – whether it be an act of kindness, volunteering or donating – floods the body and brain with dopamine – contributing to feelings of pleasure and satisfaction, and oxytocin – nicknamed the love hormone, which helps us connect to others socially, helps alleviate pain, and makes us feel good.

The science is telling us that human beings are hard wired to feel good about doing good for others.

Many years ago at a seminar I attended, Haley Cavill (author of “the Science of Do-Gooding”)  gave the following scenario to illustrate the positive effects of giving;

A man finds $20 on the street. His brain produces dopamine, so he feels pleasure and satisfaction. BUT if the man gives away the $20 he has found to someone who needs it, not only does his brain produce dopamine, it also produces oxytocin, the “love hormone”, making him feel unbelievably good. This chemical reaction is the reason giving back to our community feels so good, at times an almost giddy joy. This effect has been nicknamed The Helpers High. It is very real, and very powerful, it leads some people to dedicate their whole lives to supporting and helping others.

So if you’re an individual that wants to find more joy in everyday life, or if you are searching for something purposeful, giving back to our community is a great place to start.

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