Have you noticed that when you do something nice for someone—like buy them a coffee, help them move, or offer them a compliment—you feel a little surge of happiness?
That’s because authentic, altruistic generosity stimulates the brain to release “feel good” chemicals like dopamine, endorphins, and oxytocin. These chemicals promote warm fuzzy feelings like serenity and social trust, according to Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University.
Reclaiming the Spirit of the Holidays
The holiday season—also known as the Giving Season in philanthropic circles—offers an abundance of opportunities to get that giver’s glow, though it often doesn’t feel that way. The season kicks off with the darkly named Black Friday, a day when consumers can get great deals but also run the risk of death or injury from the crowds. That’s followed by #CyberMonday, which, in 2016, outstripped Black Friday for sales and was the biggest day of ecommerce in U.S. history.
According to the New York Times a few years ago, Henry Timms, director of the 92nd Street Y, and his colleagues wondered how they might reclaim the deeper value of the Thanksgiving season: gratitude. They came up with the idea of a day dedicated to giving. “After two days good for the economy, this would be a day good for the soul,” Timms said. “Every time we talked about it, eyes lit up. We realized it had a broad appeal.”
In 2012 they launched #GivingTuesday, the day after #CyberMonday, “to celebrate and encourage giving,” and to bring “people together around the values of service and giving back.”
So far it’s been a huge success. In 2016 more than $168 million was raised by 40,000 nonprofits. One and a half million people donated online and even more donated time, talents, and resources.
How You Can Get a Giver’s Glow
Make a plan to participate in #GivingTuesday. With a few clicks you can support your favorite nonprofits (like Omega!) and feel the satisfaction of helping a cause you believe in. You can also volunteer in local #GivingTuesday events near you—or organize one of your own if there isn’t one nearby.
But don’t stop with #GivingTuesday. It has become an important day for nonprofit fundraising, but it’s just one day. To reap the health benefits of giving, you need to practice it regularly, says Christian Smith, author of The Paradox of Generosity. So give what you can, when you can. Even a $5 or $25 donation to a cause that is meaningful to you will give you that glow. It can also be a way to redirect your attention to something positive when you’re distressed by negative news or events in the world.