Sunday, February 21, 2010

Generosity makes a life enhancing difference

"You make a living by what you get. You make a life
by what you give."
 ~ Winston Churchill

I found an interesting online article that read:
"It played like a scene from a holiday movie -- a mystery couple, who didn’t leave their names or numbers, walked into a restaurant, finished their meal and then set off a chain reaction of generosity that lasted for hours."
and it got me thinking about ‘Generosity’ and how it’s such a positive and generative behaviour. So I decided to do some research and share it with you here, because as it turns out, and not surprising really… generosity really is life enhancing.

Positive Psychology Research

There is a growing body of research on the benefits of cultivating kindness and generosity. A focus on generosity has been shown to increase levels of happiness and well-being. In one study by Stanford University psychologist Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, subjects were asked to carry out 5 intentional acts of kindness per week over a 6 week period. The results showed that compared to a control group, performing acts of kindness and generosity significantly increased reported levels of happiness and positive mood. With those who performed all the weekly acts in one day reaping the biggest gains over the course of the study.

This backs up numerous studies that show that people who do volunteering and altruistic behaviour are generally happier that the norm. Doing good deeds and helping others doesn’t just benefit the recipient, it pays back in kind.

One thing to note from the research however… varying the acts of generosity and kindness lead to bigger increases in mood than repeating the same altruistic act over and over -- Creativity counts when it comes to kindness.

Generosity Feels Good

And Generosity feels good. In one study, researchers at the National Institutes of Health scanned the brains of volunteers as they were asked to think about  scenarios involving either donating a sum of money to charity or keeping it for themselves.

The results showed clearly that when volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. What this indicates is that the effects of Generosity are basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable.

As an aside and linking to my last blog entry, there is also a fascinating connection between Generosity and Oxytocin – the trust and bonding hormone. In one study of 100 men, it was found that Oxytocin increased generosity 80% compared to those given a placebo. It would also not surprise me to find a reciprocal relationship. That when we do acts of kindness, our Oxytocin levels increase.

Generosity is Healthy

There is a huge body of scientific evidence that benevolent emotions, actions and attitudes such as kindness and generosity contribute to the giver’s health and longevity.

For example, Dr Stephen Post at Case Western Reserve University has conducted over 500 scientific studies that demonstrate the power of kindness and generosity to enhance physical and psychological health.

The studies show that:
  • Altruism is associated with increased lifespan and a substantial reduction in mortality rates, even after differences in socioeconomic status, prior health status, smoking, social support, and physical activity are accounted for
  • Giving and generosity is associated with increased survival rates in breast cancer patients
  • People who do volunteer work have lower rates of mortality and decreased incidence of heart disease
  • Generosity is linked to increased immune function
  • Altruism is positively associated with lowered anxiety and depression
  • Helping others is associated with higher levels of mental health

As Dr. Post puts it “It’s good to be good, and science says it’s so”.

"The three things we crave most in life -- happiness, freedom, and peace of mind -- are always attained by giving them to someone else."
Peyton C March

Gifts to Others vs Gifts to Self

Here’s an interesting finding: “Pro-social spending (spending on others) resulted in more happiness than personal spending”.

Can money buy happiness? That’s a question that researchers at the University of British Columbia and Harvard Business School attempted to find out…

Via a number of studies, they found that the ways in which people spend their money makes a significant difference to their happiness and that yes, money can buy happiness, especially when it’s spent on someone else.

In one of their studies of 632 Americans, they showed that prosocial spending was associated with significantly higher levels of happiness, whereas surprisingly personal spending was unrelated to happiness.

Isn’t that interesting! It’s somewhat counter-intuitive, since in our materialistic society we tend to think that buying stuff makes us happier. But numerous studies have shown that the positive affect from material purchases is very short-lived and has no real impact on our ongoing levels of happiness, meaning and life satisfaction. A month after buying that new car, your mood typically reverts to the norm.

However, as all the research described above shows, generosity and kindness, doing good things for others, and buying things or donating to other people makes a positive difference. Not just to the recipient but also in your own life.

Now to my mind, that really is life enhancing.

An incredible example

While researching on generosity and kindness, by sheer happenstance, I received a DVD in the mail of a film called ‘Blindsight’.

This is the story of Sabriye Tenberken, an amazing and inspiring woman, who along with 6 of her students attempted to climb Lhakpa Ri, a 23.000 feet high peak next to Mount Everest. What makes this story so gripping and incredible is that both Sabriye and the students are all blind.

Sabriye’s life is a compelling tribute to kindness, bravery and generosity. If you like you can check out her story and her ‘Braille Without Borders’ project at her website:  Braille Without Borders

Sabriye is a 2006 Mother Theresa Award Winner and 2005 Nobel Peace Prize nominee who became fascinated with the study of Tibetan culture as a young blind German woman and created the first Braille text for the Tibetan language.

Amazingly, she travelled alone to Tibet and into the frozen Himalayas to find blind children, considered demonic by their culture, to attend a school she established specially for them.

I was so inspired by the movie that I immediately googled on Sabriye and ordered a copy of her book ‘My Path Leads to Tibet’ from Amazon, which I have now read. It’s an incredible story, I highly recommend it.

I also jumped onto paypal and sent them a donation to do my little bit to support the wonderful work they are doing. And I have to be honest, it did feel good to help them.

Be Generous, Give Freely, Be Happy

And in case, after reading about how life enhancingly positive and beneficial generosity and kindness is to everyone involved, you’d also like to donate to Braille without Borders right now, here’s the link to Sabriye’s donations page: >> Support Braille Without Borders

Just click on the PayPal button on her page to pay in the currency of your preference. Every dollar you send them will make a positive contribution to changing someone’s life for the better.

Practice Random Acts of Kindness

And what about the story that got me started thinking deeply about generosity?

Well, it turns out, the mystery couple who visited the Aramingo Diner in Philadelphia, decided to anonymously practice a random act of kindness by paying double: for their own meal and for the tab of whoever came next to pay. As one of the diner employees reported “They asked us not to say anything until they left, say, ‘Merry Christmas, that person picked up your check.’”. And for the next 5 hours, patrons got into the same spirit and paid the favor forward. As Lynn Willard, one of the waitresses, declared, “It was magical. I had tears in my eyes because it never happened before. I’ve been here for 10 years, and I’ve never seen anything like that”.

Yes, a true story that proves how a small gesture of kindness can create ongoing magic.

Make a difference

So now you know, generosity is life enhancing in many, many ways. Generosity really can make a difference. It’s healthy, it fires off the pleasure centers in your brain and it increases happiness. Do it creatively and intentionally. The more you do for others the more both the world and your own life will be enhanced.

Generously wishing you much wellness and happiness

Some interesting books on the science and art of generosity:

Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving

The Giving Heart: Unlocking the Transformative Power of Generosity in Your Life

The Generosity Factor

1 comment:

  1. Grant,

    your blog is inspiring and your sharing of your knowledge and understandings is such a generous gift

    thank you


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