December 7, 2017

The Emotional Power of Giving

There’s an ancient Chinese proverb that says:

If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody."

There’s a lot of anecdotal evidence that “giving” is beneficial to both the recipient and the ‘giver’... but today, scientific research is providing compelling insight to support the notion that giving, whether this be in the context of time, money, or talent is a powerful way to find purpose, fulfillment and meaning in life.

This power of giving can be particularly helpful when people face emotional difficulties, as it shifts the focus from internal to external.  When the the focus is internal, we often ruminate, and get lost in the windmills of our mind where we mull things over and over which exacerbates any anxiety we feel.  

Whereas, when the focus shifts to being outside of ourselves we are able to gain some perspective and clarity, moreover when we give to another we receive the gift of increased self-esteem, pride and self-worth.  When we help another, we feel we have the power to make a difference, and this empowered feeling is quite the opposite to the stale impotence one often feels when facing seemingly insurmountable difficulties that keep us trapped in our own mind.

Indeed, many psychologists working in the areas of suicide intervention and prevention recommend a key step is to get people ‘outside of themselves’ and shift their focus from internal to external.  Often, they recommend the person facing difficulties does something altruistic that creates value -- such as sweeping an elderly neighbors' driveway.  These random acts of kindness are known to create a more positive affect in the giver than the receiver.

The idea of altruism having a similar effect to a runner’s high, known as the “helper’s high”, has been around for at least twenty years; a variety of psychological studies have reported people helping another report a feeling of being more strong, energetic, and happy -- they get an endorphin rush similar to the endorphin rise experienced from a person running.

This article looks at several ways you can activate this principle and reap the emotional rewards of ‘giving’ to others:

“Giving” isn’t restricted to acts of service such as sweeping your neighbor’s drive, or giving money to someone in need -- it can be as simple as giving someone a heartfelt compliment at the grocery store; taking the time to “see” that person and take an interest in their world.  

Today, we are all so busy that our interactions are often transactional to the point we lose sight of the person behind the interaction.  In taking an interest in the person you are giving a powerful gift; one of connection and making that person feel significant and valued enough to have an interest taken in their life.  The power of remembering someone’s name, or something they are doing can be a fantastic way to build rapport -- and, again, it gives the recipient a sense of feeling important; not in an egotistical way, but in a way they feel like they matter.  In a world where so many people suffer with low self-esteem, helping a person to feel like they matter is a very powerful gift you can offer…yet, out of our own shyness or insecurity we often restrict what we say, in order to protect ourselves from the potential rejection of giving a compliment that lands in an uncomfortable way.

Indeed, one has to be mindful of the notion that giving a compliment or taking a significant interest in the person you are talking to could be perceived as either flirtatious or as a thinly veiled attempt of getting something you want from that person.

Simply showing appreciation via words or a simple gift can have a profound effect on a person.  We are all emotional creatures and the best reward we can get is an emotional reward that makes us feel appreciated, empowered, respected, valued and important.  Think of the sacrifice a service-person makes; in fact, take a look here, as these simple gestures of bespoke military coins offers a physical token of gratitude and respect for what that person is doing for their country. Appreciation isn’t restricted to those saving lives though; appreciating your partner for cooking dinner or picking up the dry cleaning lifts that person.  We all want to feel valued and respected; rather than taken for granted and unappreciated.  Find ways to appreciate the little things and your life will become much richer.

Taking an interest in other people’s significant life events, whether that’s a celebration of something like an engagement or a condolence of something like a death in the family - people like to feel connected and valued with others; sending flowers, as an example, is a great token to just let people know their life matters just as much as your own.

World Kindness Day, which falls on November 13th every year, encourages people to go out and deliver at least one random act of kindness.  A random act of kindness is something simple, and often anonymous, whereby the giver isn’t expecting anything in return… no recognition, no applause, no reward.  They are acting from a place of pure giving.  The student who holds the door open for a teacher with her hands full of books… the train passenger that offers their seat to an elderly passenger… the checkout girl that makes sure she compliments every single customer she sees or just takes a genuine interest in their wellbeing.  

The movement of random acts of kindness is founded on the principle that kindness can change the world.  Go out today, and find just a few ways you can engage in a random act of kindness; whether that’s donating clothes, food & supplies to homeless shelters, volunteering at a youth organization or simply giving your time for an old person that is clearly lonely and would like someone to talk to.

Remember, the “secret to living is giving!” 

*This is a collaborative/contributed/partnered, compensated post. The copy, content, images & opinions are not my own.

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