Centuries ago, the English poet John Donne wrote about the connection that people have with others:
….No man is an island, entire of itself;
every man is a piece of the continent,
a part of the main. (“Meditation XVII”)
It is when people contribute to others that they feel “part of the main.” In other words, if people donate to others, or if they donate to charitable causes frequently, they acquire feelings of worth and purpose, as well as a sense of belonging to the community of man.
The spirit of giving benefits everyone involved
It is not just those who receive charity that benefit. Scientific studies have shown that acts of philanthropy also bring pleasure to the giver. One study revealed that when people are generous, several chemicals in their brains are released, generating what is often referred to as “giver’s glow.”
Stephen G. Post is director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University in New York. From the results of the Center’s study of the effects of generosity, Post explains that the feel-good response after a person gives to others is “triggered by brain chemistry in the mesolimbic pathway, an area of the brain that recognizes rewarding stimuli.” Endorphins that give a sense of euphoria are released along with “the love hormone” oxytocin, a hormone connected to a feeling of inner peace.
In fact, MRI technology reveals that just the thought of giving can trigger these responses. Post adds that philanthropy also helps to increase life expectancy. Another study published in the Journal of Health Psychology revealed that people who contributed to or volunteered for two or more causes during the test period had a 63 percent lower mortality rate than those who did nothing.
Generosity can work against depression
When people become concerned about others, they are motivated to become actively involved in causes that soon become meaningful to them. And, with a purpose to their lives, they are less likely to become depressed. Acts of philanthropy generate “happiness chemicals,” as Post calls them. These are endorphins that generate a sense of euphoria, along with oxytocin, a hormone that regulates social interaction and inner peace.
Of course, heartfelt generosity keeps people focused on others’ well-being rather than on their problems, thus working against depression. People who are generous also become more objective in their perceptions as they have been exposed to the situations and experiences of others against which they can measure their gifts in life.