G is for Giving

And so continues the A to Z blogging challenge. I had trouble coming up with something for “G”. There are so many good G words that have to do with mental health; gratification, growth, grief, guilt, goals, generalized anxiety, global labeling. I am currently feeling gloomy (another G!), so I thought I’d go with something positive today, Giving.

Do good. Feel good.

give seedlingConsidering that society equates happiness with getting something, it seems strange that I’m telling you giving is going to bring you happiness. Research has shown that people who give time, money or support to others or their community are happier, more satisfied with life and less depressed. This is nothing new. It’s been shown since the 1930s that those who volunteered as teenagers were less likely to become depressed as adults. What is new, is the biochemical findings!

Participant’s brains were monitored by MRI while they were asked to make a decision about donating to charity. Those who chose to donate showed more activity in the mesolimbic system of the brain. This is the reward center for the brain. It is activated in response to rewards, sex and other positive stimuli. In response, oxytocin, aka the love or cuddle hormone is released. This promotes social bonding. Dopamine, an important neurotransmitter for cognition and enjoyment is also released.

In addition to the feel-good chemicals, there are cognitive benefits to giving. In depression and anxiety we tend to be focused on the self. Focusing on the needs of someone else helps to shift our thinking. When helping someone else, you experience compassion and kindness, these feelings push aside the negative thoughts going on in your head. It sounds like fluff, but I have experienced it. I used to look after my cousin’s kids every Friday afternoon to give her a break. She had three little boys at the time, all under 5 years old. Most of the time I felt too tired and miserable to go. The guilt of taking away my cousin’s afternoon off was stronger though, so I went. Once I started to focus on the needs of those little boys, I forgot how much I hated myself. I forgot I was miserable and exhausted. I was focused on their needs and making sure they were having fun. I left at the end of the day feeling better.

There is a time when giving isn’t good. That is when you are already overwhelmed by your duties. One of the social workers I was talking to for a while said that we all have a box inside us. We give from that box, but it can become empty, leaving nothing more to give. You have to refill the box before it gets empty. You do this by having you-time. You need to make time to take care of yourself and have a little fun. It’s hard to “have fun” when you are depressed. Usually you have lost interest in the things you once enjoyed. This was me last year. I was trying to be too many things to too many people and my box was empty. I had no way to refill it because I had lost interest in everything. I wasn’t doing well. Then I decided I was going to draw again. I had stopped drawing for several years at that point and I didn’t really feel like drawing, but I thought it was something I used to like, so it’s a place to start. I began with scribbles which usually resulted in crumpled up balls of paper. I wasn’t getting anywhere with the drawing, but I was having me-time. The me-time helped. Slowly, I started to feel less overwhelmed. I started to draw how I was feeling which resulted in drawings like the ones from yesterday’s post. So I’ve found a way to refill my box. It wasn’t something I wanted to do at first, but making myself do it, gave me time to recharge. Now I am able to give again.give a smile

When I talk about giving, I don’t mean you have to build house in Haiti or donate an afternoon to babysitting your cousin’s kids. If you have time to do those things, by all means, do them! Little things count too though. Plant a tree. Give a stranger a smile. Volunteer for a research study. It’s a one-time thing and Psychology is always looking for people to participate in questionnaires and such. You can offer to help family members. I look after my parents’ cats when they are away and sometimes I bake my dad biscotti because I know he loves them. If you aren’t close to your family you can donate. It doesn’t have to be a lot. Give a dollar next time they ask at the grocery store. Find your own little way to spread kindness. At the very least it will give your thoughts somewhere else to go.

Sources: Proceedings of the National Academy of Science

20 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. Christy@SweetandSavoring
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 10:03:24

    I love this! I’m not sure why I was having trouble thinking of G theme, because you’ve listed plenty, all of which I could have written about. We all need to be reminded to be more giving. I know I get lost in my own head waaaaay too often. Thanks for this!


  2. johnmarkmiller
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 10:12:00

    I also used giving for my “G” theme, but I love your take on it. What a great perspective – to make sure our own box is full so we’ll be able to give to others – it’s a very Christ-like attitude. Thanks for your post!


  3. nembow
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 11:23:16

    So much wisdom in this post! I had a similar experience to you in that I used to babysit my niece two afternoons a week while her mum worked. I honestly used to dread it, but doing it was actually a joy. I now spend quite a few hours a week doing volunteer work with children and families and it certainly helps take my mind off my troubles (real and imagined) and makes me feel better. X


  4. Fatma Alici
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 13:43:09

    I’m always been the family ‘nexus’. They actually call me that, in fact, is the tag on all my text messages. I never had a shortage of time to help, but me time. I had to carve that out.


  5. Mary Ann
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 16:19:30

    All very true. Thanks for giving me a great blog to read today.
    Thanks for coming by from


  6. Andrew
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 16:53:39

    Yeah, giving is a big thing. It’s kind of weird, actually. And most of us really have to be taught to do it, because, left to our own devices, we just want to be selfish two-year-olds.


  7. tizzypotts
    Apr 08, 2014 @ 17:35:51

    Giving can be so rewarding. I like doing little things that brighten a stranger’s day. I didn’t realise there was a neurological reward response involved, but that makes sense. I also agree about taking time for yourself when you’re overwhelmed with doing things for others. You have to look after yourself to be in the best place to help others.


  8. Marcy
    Apr 09, 2014 @ 03:01:29

    So much truth in this post! I know that I feel happiest when I’m able to give and help others in some way. That’s really is what life is all about, isn’t it?


  9. Bonnie
    Apr 09, 2014 @ 23:48:02

    Giving gets us out of ourselves and like the analogy that we need to be a pipe or a conduit, when we give it leaves space to receive. Spring is on it’s way and greetings from western Canada…http://bonnieupnorth.xanga.com/


  10. livres gratuit
    May 21, 2014 @ 16:13:23

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  11. Bonnie
    May 25, 2014 @ 23:51:32

    Hi..Just a comment on above I had overlapping issues as well in the past and think it is from the server end not sure as blogger much can be done BUT …new kitten in our household and love spring adventures! http://bonnieupnorth.xanga.com/2014/05/24/spring-has-sprung-finally-in-alberta/


  12. Trackback: Easy Ways to Increase Happiness | Somber Scribbler

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