Advertising
Advertising

The Benefits of Benevolence

The Benefits of Benevolence

It turns out people benefit just as much from the act of giving than simply being on the receiving end.

Many scientific benevolence studies have been closely monitoring and linking the brain benefits and emotional improvement in those participating in generous acts. These behaviors enhance entire communities, occupied by thoughtfully connected citizens.

The definition of giving is to present voluntarily and without expecting compensation; bestow.

The article below will explore the science behind the benefits of giving and why it can benefit not only the recipients but expand into a far-reaching positive ripple effect igniting overall positive change.

What We Currently Believe

The existing theory on giving is that it’s good for those less fortunate. It increases the health and happiness of the recipient of the charitable deed. This old school of thought centers on a fear-based public opinion viewing giving as losing.

Many people believe they don’t have the economic status or time to give. People don’t know that giving is good for them. They view it as a loss instead of an overall enhancement or gain.

The current misconception is that giving away time and money directly translates into a loss.

Scientific Mythbusters 

New scientific studies are finding the positive biological and emotional benefits brought on through charitable deeds, gifts, and movements. Dubbed a “helper’s high,” scientists are now studying the feel-good endorphin release in the brain brought on by altruistic behavior.

Feel Good Endorphins 

There is a proven physiological response when people give. The reward and pleasure centers in the brain light up in the same way that they would upon receiving a gift. Oxytocin floods the body lowering stress and contributing to an overall sense of wellbeing.

Advertising

Findings at the National Institute of Health by Jorge Moll showed activated regions of pleasure, empathy, trust, and social connectedness in the brains of people who gave to charities.

Another study found giving money increased the happiness of participants as opposed to spending it on themselves (Norton, 2008). Researchers saw this take place in a study conducted with people performing consistent acts of kindness over the course of six weeks (Lyubomirsky, 2010).

Increase in Overall Health

In another comprehensive study of 40 different families from diverse classes, races and neighborhoods people choosing to be more emotionally available and generous to others were shown to be in 48% greater overall health.

The 2,000 individuals studied over the course of five years had their lifestyles and spending habits closely monitored. The findings showed much lower depressions rates among individuals who donated more than 10% of their incomes (Smith, 2009).

Volunteer Time is Free Money

Findings show the same benefits from donating to charities can be achieved through volunteer efforts. Individuals can benefit greatly by giving of their time in their neighborhood in places like early literacy initiatives reading to children, homeless shelters, and soup kitchens.

Donating time and non-monetary resources such as giving to blood banks or donating hair are all equally rewarding activities.

Studies are finding average individuals who volunteered around 5.8 hours each month would describe their existence as very happy.

On the other end of the spectrum those confessing to feelings of inadequacy and stating they are very unhappy clocked volunteer methods at around 0.6 hours per month (Davidson, Smith).

Advertising

Researchers found nine different causal mechanisms behind giving. Motivations among better social networking, and improved sense of self.

Consistency is Key

In order for people to reap the rewards of giving, their acts must be consistent. A type of generosity practice sustained over time through bodily behaviors and repeat acts can have exponential positive benefits.

Investing in overall happiness through meaningful work, relationships and benevolent acts all contribute to a happier healthier society.

Three Degrees of Altruism 

Many exciting new studies provide a fascinating insight into the science of giving. Emerging research shows when one person behaves generously that it then inspires observers to do so later toward others.

Altruism spreads by three degrees, resulting in large influential networks that can ultimately effect hundreds of people some of whom the original instigators of the good deed never even meet (Christakis, Fowler).

The Giving Conundrum 

The paradox becomes a bit chicken or the egg in that the more healthy and happy a person is the more likely they are inclined to acts of generosity and through those acts, they become happier and healthier.

Advertising

Whereas people suffering from depression, in need of acts of kindness and the least motivated toward acts of benevolence are the most likely to benefit the most from doing so for others.

If people aren’t shown kindness and generosity they are less inclined to contribute such efforts themselves and it works against the positive system.

New studies continue to increase public awareness around the direct benefits of giving causing an increase in happiness and overall health and sense of wellbeing. The giving movement continues to gain momentum contributing to an overall healthier happier environment.

REFERENCE LIST:

Christakis, Nicholas & Fowler, James. (March 23, 2010) Cooperative Behavior Cascades in Human Social Networks. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences (PNAS) vol. 107 no. 12 5334-5338

Davidson, Hilary & Smith, Christian. The Paradox of Generosity. (2014, September 1) Oxford University Press

Lyubomirsky, Sonja. Happiness for a Lifetime. (2010, July 15) Retrieved from https://youtu.be/0EJIaTFfBss

Advertising

Moll, Jorge. Findings at the National Institute of Health. (2010, December 13) Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you

Norton, Michael. Five Ways Giving is Good for You (2010, December 13) Retrieved from http://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you

Smith, Christian. Notre Dame Science of Generosity Initiative. (2009, December 17) Retrieved from https://generosityresearch.nd.edu/more-about-the-initiative/

Featured photo credit: https://pixabay.com/en/users/tpsdave-12019/ via pixabay.com

More by this author

Rebecca Smith

Copywriter, Freelancer, Short Fiction

The Benefits of Benevolence 4 Free Ways to Give Generously Dear Millennials: It’s Not Your Fault

Trending in Brain

1 How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential 2 Are You Right-Brain Dominant? (7 Right Brain Characteristics) 3 What Is Creative Thinking and Why Is It Important? 4 How Systems Thinking Makes You a Smarter Person 5 15 Brain Foods That Will Super Boost Your Brain Power

Read Next

Advertising
Advertising
Advertising

Last Updated on March 30, 2020

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

How to Tap into Your Right Brain’s Potential

You may have heard someone say they are “totally right brained” or that they’re “a left brained person.”

There is a pervasive myth that’s been making its rounds for over a century: people have two hemispheres of their brains, and if they have a dominant left brain, they’re more analytical; and if they have a dominant right brain, they are more creative.

Before we go debunking this theory and then giving some tips for how people can access their creative brain centers, let’s first take a look at where the left brain/right brain lateralization theory comes from.

The Left Brain/Right Brain Lateralization Theory

In the 1800s, scientists discovered that when patients injured one side of their brains, certain skills were lost.[1] Scientists linked those different skills to one side of the brain or the other. Thus began the left brain/right brain myth that continues to this day.

Then, in the 1960s and 70s, Roger W. Sperry led 16 operations that cut the corpus callosum (the largest region that connects both brain hemispheres together) in order to try to treat patients’ epilepsy. Sperry wrote about the differences in the two hemispheres as a result of those surgeries.[2]

Sperry’s work was popularized in 1973 with a New York Times article about his lateralization theory—that people were either right brained (read: logical) or left brained (read: creative). From here, Sperry won the Nobel Prize for his work and numerous other publications spread the right brain/left brain myth.

Debunking the Right Brain/Left Brain Myth

If anything, the lateralization theory of the brain is a gross exaggeration. It is true that people have two hemispheres of their brains. It is also true that there are differences in the composition of those two hemispheres.

Advertising

However, the hemispheres are actually much more interconnected than Sperry’s work initially made it seem.

In a 2013 study,[3] scientists scanned over 1000 people’s brains, checking for lateralization. They confirmed that certain brain functions occur predominately in one hemisphere or the other but that, in reality, the brain is actually much more interconnected and complex than the right brain/left brain lateralization theory makes it seem.[4][5]

A New Metaphor for Right Brain/Left Brain

How do we get past this right brain/left brain myth?

First, let’s look at what contemporary cognitive science says about brain regions, and creative and logical modes of thinking.

My background is as an improviser and improv researcher. I wrote Theatrical Improvisation, Consciousness, and Cognition and think looking at improvisation and the brain can shed light on a new model for talking about unlocking the brain’s creative potential.

Functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) brain scans have shown that while trained improvisers improvise (musically on a keyboard, rapping, and comedic improvisation) an interesting shift happens in their brain activity. [6]

A region called the dorsolateral prefrontal cortex decreases in activity and creative language centers such as the medial prefrontal cortex increase in activity. The dorsolateral prefrontal cortex is linked with conscious thoughts—that inner voice that tells you not to say something or criticizes you when you do.

Advertising

The medial prefrontal cortex is among the brain regions linked with creativity. So, instead of thinking about right brain and left brain, perhaps it’s more current and correct to think about more specific brain regions instead of hemispheres. Perhaps, it’s more useful to think about which activities and strategies will allow us to inhibit our dorsolateral prefrontal cortexes and allow our medial prefrontal cortexes to flourish.

How to Enhance Your “Right Brain” — Creativity

Whether we’re talking about right brain versus left brain, creative versus logical, or medial prefrontal cortex versus dorsolateral prefrontal cortex, we still know enough to talk about strategies to tap into your creative brain’s full potential.

So, now that we’ve dispelled the right brain/left brain myth and looked at a more contemporary, cognitive neuroscience theory of brain regions and creativity centers, let’s look at how to tap into the potential of your creative brain.

1. Performing Arts

One way to tap into your creative brain centers is to participate in the performing arts. Whether you improvise, act, or dance, the performing arts allow you an embodied experience that will help you snap out of your habitual, logical thoughts.

Another benefit of the performing arts is that it changes your attention. Attention and creativity are inextricably linked. When we improvise, act, or dance, we have to focus intently on our fellow performers. This means we are forced to focus less on our conscious, logical thoughts. This frees us up for more creative thinking and expression.[7]

One of the conclusions of my research on improvisation is that focusing intensely on fellow improvisers and the task at hand makes it more likely that we experience a flow state. Dr. Csikszentmihalyi,[8] a Professor of Psychology and Management defines flow as an optimal psychological state when our skills match the difficulty of the task at hand. Our perception of time is altered as we get into the zone and become more present and in the moment during our chosen activity.[9]

A flow state is a creative state. It’s the opposite of crunching numbers and forcing ourselves to work out a problem with the conscious regions of our brain. So, get up, improvise, act, or dance to access your creativity.

Advertising

2. Visual Art

Art teacher Betty Edwards[10] wrote a book called Drawing on the Right Side of the Brain. Here again, we see that a shift in our attention can lead us to an increase in our creative thinking.

Edwards’ book gives art students tricks to shift the way they see the world. For example, one exercise encourages students to literally flip whatever it is they’re drawing upside down before they draw it. This forces budding artists to literally see the object in a new way. This shift allows them to focus more on the individual components and patterns of the object, which allows them to draw it better.

Shifting how we see things is another way we can access our creative brain centers. Take an art class to shut off your conscious, critical thoughts and start seeing things from a new, more creative perspective.

3. Zone Out

If there’s one thing creativity doesn’t like, it’s being coerced.

I think we’ve all felt that awful feeling of trying to force ourselves to be creative. When we force it, we’re really trying to force our logical brain regions to be creative. It’s like asking your gardener to perform your appendix surgery. It’s just not what she does.

Instead, stop forcing it. Take a break. Take a long walk or a relaxing bath or shower. Let your mind wander.

Whatever you do, stop forcing it. This break lets your creative centers rise to the surface of your attention and get heard.

Advertising

4. Practice Mindfulness

The final trick to start accessing your so-called right brain is to practice mindfulness.

Now, there’s a lot of different ways to go about mindfulness. You can take a more physical approach with a yoga class. Or you can try meditating to become more aware and in tune with your thoughts and feelings: Meditation for Beginners: How to Meditate Deeply and Quickly

You could also try to incorporate fun mindfulness exercises[11] into your everyday routine like forcing yourself to go on detours or pretending you’re a detective who needs to examine people and places closely.

Any way you do it, mindfulness exercises and training can help you become better versed in how your brain works and what your normal thought process is like on a day-to-day basis. If we’re ever going to reach our optimal creativity, we have to become an expert in how our individual brain functions. Mindfulness is one way to become your very own brain expert.

Mindfulness also has added benefits like calming us, slowing our breathing, and helping us become more observant, which are also great ways to start tapping into our creative potential.

Final Thoughts

So, it may not be correct to say that our right brain is our creative brain, but it is still a valid pursuit to try to optimize our creative brain centers.

The key to do so is to relax, become observant, shift your perspective, move your body, try something new, and, whatever you do, don’t force it.

Creativity can feel slippery. It can abandon us when we need it most, but by slowing down and looking at things from a new perspective, we can give ourselves a better chance of tapping into our ultimate creativity, even if that doesn’t exactly mean our “right brain.”

More Tips on Boosting Creativity

Featured photo credit: Kelly Sikkema via unsplash.com

Reference

Read Next