What’s So Great About Giving?

The researchers found that brain activity associated with happiness, along with self-reported happiness, increased simply after making a commitment to be generous to others. Happiness and happiness-related brain activity also went up when actually giving, the research team found, and left givers in a happier overall state than those who acted selfishly. Interestingly, relatively small acts of giving gave rise to just as big a happiness bump as bigger acts, the investigators said.*

Have you ever noticed how incredible it can feel to give? I have…years ago when I was drilling nails to build a child’s bedroom with Habitat for Humanity, a bedroom that kid might not have otherwise had. Not sure whether these Swiss researchers looked into how long the happiness bump lasts, but I can tell you mine has been around for decades. Every time I think of it I get that rush.

So they are right about just the thought of it. It will be a few weeks before my hospice volunteer work actually begins and, here again, just the thought of giving to another that way makes me feel good all over.

The ‘feel good all over’ that goes off in the brain when we give encourages us to do more of it, just like eating and, well you know, feel good to encourage us to do more of that too. Back in the day reputation mattered. Still does. It is speculated that givers appeared more trustworthy than takers, resulting in greater control over resources (or at least access to food and safety) with which to survive and to thrive. Doing well by doing good is what we would call it today.

We all want to be seen as good, and we feel happy when we are. In my Organizational Politics workshop, virtually every participant peeled down on our 5 Why’s exercise to being fundamentally driven by a deep desire to be seen as a good person. Makes us feel good.

Yeh but…what if the giving is obviously to get. What if, let’s say, a husband is stingy with his wife where no one can see, but an uber generous big tipper, big donator out in the world where everyone can. Or what if a woman sits on a variety of non profit boards, but is rarely home for her children, and rude to her employees. More about ‘looking good’ than being and doing good we might say.

Maybe you know people like this. And maybe you don’t like them, so not sure about the happiness bump for them. In fact, one such person** told me that, despite his most generous public persona, deep down he felt like a “wretched soul.” So the self cannot be fooled for long. Even if everyone else can, no real happiness for him.

Another woman I know** said she believes people only feel like giving when they are already happy, as in cup runneth over, so why not. To this I added my own yeh but…telling her what she said makes sense too but, if the research is right on what’s so great about giving, isn’t when we are feeling down a really great time to give. Look at all the happiness we can kick into motion for ourselves and others to help make the world we live in a better place.

She thanked me for this, which brings us to gratitude. There is plenty of research linking gratitude and happiness. And what is gratitude, after all, if not a form of giving itself. Giving thanks, that is. But don’t take their word for it, nor mine. Test it out yourself and let me know what you find.

So, for example, instead of spending on yourself, spend on someone else instead to see how that feels. Just a test. And remember, it doesn’t even have to be big. Something as small as offering a smile, or holding a door…could tell you all you need to know. Or something else you might like to try. Practice, Practice, Practice…and See What Happens.

For help with this or something else, or to let me know what you think, Contact Me at:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

Phone:   202-617-0821

* Givers Really Are Happier Than Takers. MedLIne. Tuesday, August 15, 2017. https://medlineplus.gov/news/fullstory_167833.html

** Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.







Nasty News About Rich People? True or False?

“Dating back to 2009, studies have shown that rich people fail to engage with strangers as much as their poorer counterparts, have a harder time reading other people’s emotions, are less empathetic and react less strongly to seeing depictions of suffering.”*

The question the Mcclatchy Washington Bureau is raising is this: “Do rich people really not care about anyone?” Okay, two things here: 1) It is not clear that studies that measure eye gaze show that, because rich people tend to look less at other people around them, this means they don’t care. And 2), even if there are distractions or challenges feeding into this effect for the richer among us, and often to their own detriment by the way, this is nothing that a little awareness could not help heal.

Clients** I work with and people I know who may fit into this class of people care very much about contributing to humanity – at the same time they can look very much like they don’t. There is the wealthy entrepreneur who can easily be taken as singularly profit motivated to those who do not know him well enough to know that his greatest satisfaction and most deeply felt need is the good he does for others, through the business he builds and the product he provides. There is the socially shy philanthropist who gears his wealth toward justice for all. On the surface, each may appear not to care all that much for the people around them. But, this does not mean they don’t care for other people in an even larger way than many of the rest of us are able to afford. They may care about other people differently, but this does not mean they don’t care about other people at all. Maybe they even care more, despite whatever their eye gaze suggests.

This is not to say that there aren’t any rich people who care more about self-aggrandizement than they care about anything or anyone else. But for others, it might be the largeness of the responsibility inherent in their way of contributing to humanity that distracts them into looking like they don’t care. To use a smaller scale example, how many people do we know who are so consumed by providing for their families – so distracted and depleted – that they really do appear to not care about anyone else, when exactly the opposite is true. All of which is to say, careful please with our assumptions about who does and doesn’t care. There is more than meets the eye(gaze) in the mix on this point. Which brings me to our second point.

Social Capital. “Studies indicate that ‘social capital’ is one of the biggest predictors for health, happiness, and longevity.” The idea here is that social capital (friends, family, colleagues, connections, networks…) can have tremendous value, why they call it capital. If we are not mindful, there can be a trade-off between the financial capital amassed for some greater good and the social capital necessary for our own. Here’s the good news. Even the most distracted among us seem capable of slowing down enough to connect a little more once they begin to know and to feel the social deficit inside. People are busy, you may say. Who has time to connect. Except it doesn’t have to take all that much time. Sure, people can join committees, activity clubs, take lessons and the like to enrich their social capital and their health. But good things can happen in no time at all with no more than a simple smile. Smiling is exactly about social connection. That’s what it’s for. So, if you are richer financially than socially, or to increase your social capital regardless of where you stand financially, you can begin with a smile. So let’s say, next time you are at the dinner table, at a meeting, at a party, just walking down the street gazing at your phone or your navel – get out of your head. Look up, make eye contact, and smile. And then, notice how the energy in and around you shifts and uplifts in split second of time. Practice, practice, practice…and see what happens.

To work on this or something else, would love to hear from you:

Email:  Madelaine Weiss

* “Do rich people really not care about anyone?” Greg Hadley, Mcclatchy Washington Bureau. November 1, 2016 http://medicalxpress.com/news/2016-11-rich-people.html

**Examples and illustrations are fictional composites inspired by but not depicting nor referring to any actual specific person in my practice or life experience.

Copyright © 2017. Madelaine Claire Weiss. All rights reserved.