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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.

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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).

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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.

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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

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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

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Rebecca Smith

Copywriter, Freelancer, Short Fiction

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Published on November 23, 2020

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

How to Develop Big Picture Thinking And Think More Clearly

Your neighbors downstairs are playing loud music. Again. How do they not get tired of partying? And why do they choose songs with such a heavy downbeat that the glass in your cupboard is vibrating every two seconds? What can you do to get some peace that you deserve? What should you?

Human mind tends to go in circles whenever faced with a problem without a clear solution. It becomes easy to forget the big picture and get lost in anger and self-pity, wasting our precious time, energy and enthusiasm.

Would it not be nice if we always remembered to put things in perspective?

Would it not be more efficient to face all kinds of problems, from tiny annoyances to life-changing emergencies, with a calm demeanor, sharp focus and fearless determination to promptly take the most efficient action possible?

Alas, humans are not like that. All too often we let anxiety or greed get the best of us and make a rushed or shortsighted decision that we quickly come to regret. Other times, we spend weeks or months at an impasse, rehashing the exact same arguments, unable to accept the compromise required to move forward with any of the available options.

Buddhists talk about getting lost in the “small self.” In this state of mind, we literally forget the big picture and focus on the small one. We start taking our daily problems too personally and, paradoxically, becomes less capable of solving them in an efficient manner. And this is the opposite of big picture thinking.

Let me share with you a story related to big picture thinking…

In 1812, the French army of Napoleon Bonaparte invaded Russia.[1] After a decisive Battle of Borodino, the capture of Moscow and therefore Napoleon’s victory in the war seemed inevitable.

Unexpectedly, the Russian Commander-in-Chief Mikhail Kutuzov made a highly controversial decision of retreating and allowing the French to capture Moscow. Much of the population had been evacuated taking supplies with them. The city itself was set on fire and large parts of it burned into the ground.

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After waiting in vain for Russia to capitulate, Napoleon had to retreat in the middle of a bitterly cold winter. He won the battle but lost the war. The campaign ended in a disaster and the near destruction of the French army.

What can we learn from this historical lesson?

1. Focus on the Consequences

Napoleon focused on the important part: capturing Moscow. Nobody could accuse him of thinking small. Yet he overlooked that the Russian army could still fight even after giving up the country’s most important city.

So was Moscow not an important target after all?

Success expert Brian Tracy has a litmus test: things are important to the extent that they have important consequences. Things are unimportant to the extent that they have no important consequences.[2]

When faced with a choice, ask yourself, what would be the consequences of each option?

  • Want to spend an hour studying or watching the new series on Netflix? What would be the consequences of each option? Netflix can sometimes be a better choice, but it helps to put things in perspective.
  • Want to maintain your apartment by yourself or to pay a cleaning service? Would would be the consequences of each option?
  • Want to meet up for coffee with this acquaintance of yours or catch up on your work instead? What would be the consequences of each option?

The choice can be different for different people. An aspiring filmmaker may have a legitimate reason for choosing Netflix. Personally, cleaning your own apartment can be relaxing and nourishing even if the economics of hiring a cleaner looks compelling because you are earning a high hourly rate.

This is where you will need a basic idea of who you are — what are your goals, values and aspirations.

2. Flip Defeat Into Victory

Kutuzov managed to turn Russia’s defeat into a historic victory by recasting the problem in a wider context: losing Moscow need not mean losing the war.

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Despite the symbolic meaning attached to the Kremlin, the churches, the priceless treasures that had been stored in the city for centuries, the outcome of the campaign was ultimately determined by the strength of the remaining armies.

If you can adopt this result-oriented perspective, many of your personal defeats may be flipped into victories as well. Few events in a human life are absolutely good or absolutely bad, and it usually takes many years to recognize in retrospect, what role a particular encounter did play in your story.

Therefore we have every reason to look for the good in the things that happen to us.

This is a very practical attitude, far from baseless “positive thinking.” After all, if something unfortunate has happened to you and you find good sides in this circumstance, you will then be better positioned to take advantage of those good sides.

Say your noisy neighbors are affecting your productivity. What if it is a blessing in disguise? How can you turn this defeat into a victory?

  • Perhaps you are too serious about life and could learn how to have more fun. Join your neighbors or go out for a walk instead of working;
  • Perhaps you only wanted to be productive while instead procrastinated on social media. Now that your procrastination has been interrupted, stop and acknowledge this much greater obstacle to your productivity;
  • Perhaps you are too sensitive to interference. Take this opportunity to practice ignoring the noise and doing your best anyway;
  • Perhaps you have a victim mentality and the feeling of unfairness drains you more than any actual nuisance your neighbors might have caused. Try accepting this lapse in your productivity the way you would accept bad weather.

Get used to finding opportunities in your problems. This is the quintessential big picture thinking.

3. Ask for Advice

Both Napoleon and Kutuzov had trusted advisers to discuss their affairs with. In general, getting a different perspective — or several — can only help inform your understanding and lead to better decisions. Just ensure that the people giving you advice are competent in the particular area where experience is needed.

Paying money for advice can also be a wise investment. Lawyers, tax accountants, medical doctors spend years learning how to assist people like yourself in living more successful, more fulfilling lives.

A quick legal consultation can save you a fortune down the line or even keep you out of big trouble. A medical check-up can uncover potential issues and help keep you healthy and active for years to come.

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Even big, complex dilemmas at your job or in your romantic relationship can be tackled more effectively by partnering up with a coach or a therapist or, of course, with the help of a wise friend.

4. Beware of Biased Advice

Many imperfect decisions occur in response to an imperfect piece of advice that you choose to act on. This advice often comes from a biased party.

For example, we are often encouraged to buy something that we supposedly need:

  • Protect your skin from harmful UV rays by using a special lotion.
  • Fortify your health by taking multivitamins.
  • Connect with your friends by sending them elaborate gifts.
  • Brighten your weekend by consuming a delicious pastry.
  • Become more productive by getting a faster computer.

However, most purchases are unnecessary.

Some, such as the sunscreen, do have legitimate benefits when used properly.[3] Others, such as multivitamins, only make a difference for a small group of people.[4]

Advertisers of those benefits inevitably want to narrow your focus in order to overstate the importance of their product. They frequently present it as the only solution to your problem, whether real or imaginary.

After all,

  • Skin can also be protected from the sun by wearing appropriate clothing.
  • Health can be better fortified by consuming a balanced diet and getting regular exercise.
  • Spending time or talking on the phone with your friends is the foremost way of connecting with them, and it is virtually free.
  • Your weekend can be brightened by doing something that you love.
  • You can become more productive by focusing on the tasks that have the most important consequences. A faster computer can, in fact, decrease productivity by making it easier to multitask and by enabling your favorite distractions.

There are other sources of imperfect advice. Politicians also frequently want us to focus on a particular “big picture,” to the exclusion of the alternatives.

Even loving parents can be guilty of the same. They can advise their children to pick a career path that is safe and respectable, based on their “big picture” that in life one has to make a living. A child may disagree, however, based on another “big picture” that one’s life has to have meaning and fulfillment.

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Bottom Line

It is human nature to make rushed, emotional decisions based on incomplete information, then regret those decisions later on.

You can protect yourself from poor judgment by striving to attain the big picture when careful consideration is called for.

Focus on the consequences of your decision before considering how you feel about it.

Play with the cards you’ve been dealt, but look for opportunities in each situation and you will find them.

Ask knowledgeable mentors for advice, but beware of biased people who have an opinion, but do not necessarily have your best interest in mind.

Yet remember, true big picture thinking comes from hard-won experience. Legendary military commanders Napoleon Bonaparte and Mikhail Kutuzov were both injured on the battlefield.

Clear thinking comes from putting your big picture to the test of reality.

More Tips on Thinking Clearly

Featured photo credit: Haneen Krimly via unsplash.com

Reference

[1] Wikipedia: French invasion of Russia
[2] Brian Tracy: No Excuses!: The Power of Self-Discipline
[3] American Academy of Dermatology: Say Yes to Sun Protection
[4] Harvard Medical School: Do multivitamins make you healthier?

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