In our quest for better health, we
often focus on food and fitness and
overlook a powerful way to reduce
stress, improve body and mind, live
longer and bask in warm fuzzies.
This powerful health tool isn’t
a new drug, exercise program
or superfood. It’s giving: the
compassionate and generous
donation of time, money, talent and
treasure (new or gently used).
evidence and discovering that giving
is good for us. Their findings show
charitable giving makes us happier
and positively benefits our mental
and physical health in several ways.
It starts in the brain. “Giving
activates the pleasure centres of the
brain where we process rewards,”
says Lara Aknin, an assistant
professor of social psychology
at Simon Fraser University in
Vancouver. She studies what
makes people happy, including the
emotional effects of kind or generous
Experience and help from centre
staff has helped boost her confidence
and residents look forward to seeing
and talking with her every week.
“Some talk so much their food goes
cold! It’s interesting to hear what they
have to say, and it helps take away
their isolation and loneliness.
“It’s rewarding. Knowing I did
something good for someone else and
they’ll be happier makes me happy,”
she says about the 10 to 12 hours she
volunteers every week.
The happier a person is, the more
likely she is to give, something Aknin
and her colleagues call a positive
feedback loop. “When people give
and it makes them feel good, it
encourages them to do it again,” she
says. “[Giving is] like chocolate cake.
If eating chocolate cake makes you
feel good, you’ll want to eat it again.”
The warm glow of giving can be
experienced with relatively little
effort. In a 2008 study published in
the journal Science, Aknin, Elizabeth
Dunn of the University of British
Columbia and Michael Norton of
Harvard University gave people on a
university campus a $5 or a $20 bill.
Half were told to spend the money
on themselves; the rest to spend the
money on someone else. Those who
spent the money on others said they
felt happier at the end of the day than
those who spent it on themselves.
That warm glow may be universal.
Aknin and her fellow researchers
behaviour. “That area just lights up.”
Kindness and generosity trigger
the release of feel-good brain
chemicals that give us warm fuzzies
or what some call a “giver’s glow.”
Khushboo Goyal says she often
feels joy after giving. The 18-year-old
Edmontonian volunteers coaching
tennis, teaching Hindi language and
classical Indian dance classes and, for
the past six years, lending a hand at
CapitalCare Grandview, a continuing
care centre for elderly people.
She’s helped in the Grandview’s
gift shop and with residents’
recreation activities and
physiotherapy. The high-school grad
recently took CapitalCare’s Loving
Spoonful Mealtime Companion
Training Program and now spends
time on weekends helping residents
eat breakfast. “Initially it was difficult
for me. Often I didn’t get a response
from them . . . You don’t want to
overfeed, or cause them to choke,”
Giving activates the
pleasure centres of the brain
where we process rewards
A dedicated volunteer at the age of 85, Eunice
Gole (left) of Didsbury says giving to others is
what keeps her going.