It is well to give when asked, but it is better to give unasked, through understanding;
And to the open-handed the search for one who shall receive is joy greater than giving.
– Khalil Gibran, The Prophet
The holiday season is a time when many of us are most mindful of those in need and called to give. But there is reason to believe that giving, in general, is healthy for the giver. You may feel this intrinsically when you donate your time, talents, or energy toward a cause or a person—but scientific studies are emerging to tell us that the act of giving helps us find purpose, overcome our own struggles, and find meaning in everyday life.
The idea of “survival of the fittest” (a quote incorrectly credited to Charles Darwin) suggests that humans are hardwired to be selfish and competitive—but Darwin also had a lesser-known belief that groups of sympathetic humans and animals were most successful in raising healthy offspring. In other words, he was making an argument for the survival of the kindest.
Researchers at the University of California, Berkeley, have studied the human brain and nervous system, finding evidence that humans are actually evolving to become more empathetic and collaborative in our attempts to survive and thrive. Essentially, they are proving that our species continues to succeed because we have developed nurturing and compassionate instincts. One of the study’s directors, Dacher Keltner, says, “Human beings have survived as a species because we have evolved the capacities to care for those in need and to cooperate.”
We have heard of “runner’s high” when exercise causes a person’s endorphin levels to rise. Apparently, there is a similar concept—the helper’s high—that has a comparable effect. Philanthropy stimulates happiness chemicals like dopamine and endorphins that create a sense of exhilaration, and oxytocin, which can create a sense of tranquility and peace. Both the giver and the recipient can experience gratitude, which is a contributor to health, happiness, and social connection.
Today is Giving Tuesday, a response to the frenzy surrounding Black Friday and Cyber Monday. The originators created a movement to encourage giving your time, a donation, or the power of your voice in your community. At Alabama Chanin, we are encouraging all of our employees to find a cause or an idea that moves them or is dear to their heart and to give in whatever ways they are able. But most importantly, we are using this day to challenge each individual to continue to give and to collaborate with others.
We challenge each of you, as well. Use your voices, your gifts, your donations, and your hearts to encourage year-round giving and gratitude. Seek out what inspires you and give a little when opportunities arise. Showing compassion enriches your life and makes our communities healthier. Survival of the kindest: it sounds like the best way forward today.