The Best Present: The Neurobiology of Giving
As it turns out, what every six-year-old knows about the holidays turns out to be true: when it comes to the meaning of Christmas, it IS all about the presents. Or, at least about the giving. Numerous longitudinal studies provide compelling evidence that acts of giving, kindness and generosity improve physical and emotional health across the lifespan. Volunteering stimulates a release of oxytocin, producing feelings of well-being, warmth, and even euphoria. The effect of volunteering on cortisol levels decreases stress, with its well-documented relationship to health.
Steven Root, in his book "Why Good things Happen to Good People," reports that — controlling for other lifestyle factors — older individuals who volunteer an average of four hours a week experience a 44% reduction in mortality. Similar results have been reported for individuals with chronic pain and chronic illnesses such as cardiovascular disease, cancer and multiple sclerosis.
Giving is also a gift that keeps on giving. Watching a video of Mother Theresa and orphans in Calcutta stimulates similar impulses to give and to be kind. The act of observing others volunteering appears to have a contagious effect, perhaps inspiring others to act through the agency of mirror neurons.
Interestingly, this effect does not follow a straight line. It is not true that the more giving, the greater the effect. Too much giving, like too much of most things, has a negative effect, throwing the individual's system out of balance.
For this holiday season, give yourself the gift of giving. Focus on others — family, friends, coworkers, strangers. Giving to a cause that moves you is an invitation to expand your joy and increase your feeling of belonging to those around you. For those in recovery, the mindfulness and connection these opportunities provide are precious gifts, not just for the holidays but for a lifetime.
Top 10 Eating Disorder Blogs of 2015
Eating Disorder Hope Award
- Mirasol Presents at Asta 2017 April 25, 2017
- Breaking the Cycle of Eating Disorders, Insomnia and Trauma January 17, 2017
- The Promise of Trans-Cranial Electrical Stimulation November 5, 2016
- Fall Backpacking Trip October 18-20, 2016
- Embrace: The Movie September 20, 2016
- Shift. Focus. Evolve. August 31, 2016
- Maria's Worlds August 30, 2016
- The Challenges of Summer July 15, 2016
- High Ropes Course Challenges Families to Develop New Dynamic June 20, 2016
- Mirasol's Family Program: Recovery for the Whole Family June 16, 2016
- Eating Disorders, Shame and Tools for Recovery June 9, 2016
- Esquire Magazine's Recipe for Male Anorexia April 26, 2016
- Backpacking with Clients: What We Brought, And What We Took Away April 20, 2016
- Finding Yourself in the Middle of Nowhere April 20, 2016
- Eating Disorders and Sexuality: A Mirasol Panel Discussion March 10, 2016
- Straight Talk on Body Image: A Mirasol Panel Discussion February 22, 2016
- Treatment Center Reviews February 16, 2016
- Art Therapy: Challenging the Inner Critic February 8, 2016
- Men Experience Eating Disorders Too! February 8, 2016
- Jenn’s Story: Learning to Put Recovery First January 27, 2016
- “Reflections:” A Powerful Tool for Healing Relationships, Developing Personal Responsibility, and Moving Forward in Recovery January 23, 2016
- The Best Present: The Neurobiology of Giving December 16, 2015
- Having Faith: A Mirasol Client Video Testimonial December 11, 2015