Helping others releases the same hormones as sex

Written by
Ashleigh Lawrence
Photo by Dani Vivanco on Unsplash

Why do you wait to hold the door open for someone you’ve never met before? Why offer to help a stranger struggling to carry groceries? Mum always told me to be nice to others, although there are studies suggesting it may not be as simple as social conditioning. Ever wondered why you feel the urge to give to others? As much as your act of kindness helps the receiver, it also strongly benefits you as the giver! Read on to find out why you feel the urge, and which acts of giving you can do today to help yourself and others.

It is human nature to give

Studies suggest that it may be human nature to want to help others. Michael Tomasello, psychologist and author of the book “Why We Cooperate”, describes how children were trying to give assistance before they could even talk. He conducted research where an infant was placed in a situation where an adult was unable to achieve a goal (for example, dropping a pen and being unable to reach it). Incredibly, in the majority of cases, the children helped in the tasks and before the adult asked for help or even looked at them! The children were so young that it isn’t plausible that their mother’s had been conditioning them with tales of why you should be nice to others. Therefore Tomasello concludes it is a natural instinct for humans to be little helpers.

Giving makes us feel happy

Neuroscientists from Emory University found that helping others activated the regions of the brain that turn on when people receive rewards or experience pleasure. Other studies have found that those who give report increased self-esteem and decreased depression. When we give and help others, we think outside ourselves, feel connected to another person and this increases our happiness. The secret to living is giving.

Those love hormones

You may have heard of a hormone called oxytocin, also known as the love hormone due to the fact it is released when hugging, during sex, or even while eating chocolate. Science suggests your body produces more oxytocin and endorphins (another well-known chemical produced by the body) when giving and being compassionate — which is why it feels so good! There’s even a scientific term for this feeling you experience with philanthropic acts; “Helper’s High”.

Good for your health

There may be long-term effects of giving associated with increased health benefits. In a 1999 study by the University of CA, Berkley, Doug Oman found that those who volunteered for two or more organisations were 44 percent less likely to pass away over a five year period than non-volunteers! Another study conducted in 2006 by the University of Tennessee found that those who provided social support to others lowered their blood pressure. This suggests that there is not just a psychological benefit to giving, but a physiological benefit too.

Most people would agree that we need a more compassionate world and science tells us that by helping others, we help ourselves.

Here are some tips as to how you can become a philanthropist today and experience ‘Helper’s High’:

1. Volunteer your time

Find something you are passionate about, and help out with it. This doesn’t have to be your standard soup kitchen volunteering (although if that’s your thing, then do it!). There are a million outside the box ways to volunteer. The Red Cross looks for volunteers to provide support at music festivals, you can volunteer for conservation works, clean up parks, organise a charity event, coach a student team, help local families. Bonus points if you have skills that you can integrate.

2. Give gifts

It could be buying your partner an ice cream on the way home, or taking your mum to lunch. Give your coats that you don’t use and are taking up space in the back of your wardrobe to a shelter so that someone else can use them this winter. Check out a charity’s website to find out what they may need; it could be school supplies, clothing or food. They may have enough of one item but be in desperate need of something else.

3. Give money

This one seems the most straightforward, although stop and think for a second before you start blindly throwing money in a tin outside the supermarket. To get the maximum happiness from giving money, you should attempt to give to organisations who are transparent with their activities.

Research where your money is going and how it is going to be used so that you have full control over your donation. Do you think that Bill Gates throws his money at organisations without knowing exactly what they’re going to use it for? You don’t have to give a lot of money to make a difference. Anyone can be a philanthropist and feel like Bill Gates with just a $20 bill. The $5 that you spend on your coffee this morning could supply a month’s worth of antimalarial tablets. The $3 it costs to buy a bottle of water could instead go towards providing clean water to someone in Africa for a whole year.

Little Phil brings you “Little Phil good moments” anytime, by enabling you to give directly to a receiver you care about. One of the biggest benefits of using Little Phil is that you have total control over your donation. Like a true philanthropist, you can see exactly where your money is going from the moment you give, all the way to the receiver. Little Phil uses smart contracts which make sure that your funds are only able to be released to be used as you intended. So if you donate to buy a child a month’s worth of anti-malarial medication, you know that is exactly what it’ll be used for.

What ways do you give or contribute to society?

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