I can be pretty selfish sometimes, like my sister found out the other day when she left a vegan chocolate bar unattended (hey, you snooze you lose). But sometimes, it’s the things I do for others’ sake that give me more pleasure than dark chocolate–and I’m not alone. In a 2008 study by Harvard Business School researchers, giving money to someone else made participants happier than taking it themselves. Giving activates the regions of the brain associated with social connection and pleasure, and releases endorphins just like exercise. This explains why doing altruistic things makes me feel all glowy, like a mix of dinner with close friends and running.
Giving doesn’t have to be extravagant or even be about money. The rewarding feeling after giving can be totally unrelated to how much money you spend, but how positive you feel about the action and how close you feel with others in your community. Here are my favorite tips and ideas on how to be more giving.
1. Do something good for the environment: one of the most weirdly fun things I do on a consistent basis is…dropping off compost at the farmer’s market twice a week. Unlike other environmentally-friendly acts like recycling or drinking filtered, not bottled water, composting has elements of ritual and community that just add so much “giver’s high.” To the uninitiated, composting sounds so intense and somewhat gross, but nothing can be simpler. Just collect your non-greasy food scraps, peels, fennel tops, carrot tops, used paper towels, etc, in a brown bag or a compost container. If you have a yard of your own, creating a compost pile in your backyard would be a great option that yields all natural, organic fertilizer! If you live in a city, find out if your local farmer’s market has compost drop off stations. Afterwards, enjoy strolling around the farmer’s market and treat yourself to a mini vegan strawberry pie or fresh asparagus, basking in the glow of doing good. 🙂
2. Run a race for charity: Imagine the high that you will feel from running and doing something for a good cause. Here are some suggestions: Race for the Cure (breast cancer); Race for Vegan Living (The Vegan Society, UK). You can also download Charity Miles app to earn $0.25 for every mile you run, and $0.10 for every mile you bike.
3. Do something nice for your significant other: Doing something for your significant other can make your relationship more satisfying, and both sides happier. Here’s the catch: when you give to your s.o., don’t think in terms of what makes you happy–think about what the other person would want. For instance, you might feel better offering grand romantic gestures like buying expensive gifts or planning an exotic getaway–but your s.o. might be happier if you cleaned out the garage or gave sincere compliments. Bonus: studies show a link between giving and oxytocin–the hormone released during sex and childbirth, which plays an important role in intimacy, bonding, and security. So being selfless truly has its upside. 🙂
4. Offer your intentions: Call it praying for someone, offering your intentions, sending good thoughts like radio waves, or dedicating your yoga practice to something/someone–whatever it is, spiritual practice in favor of someone or something outside of yourself can be incredibly enlightening. If you are religious, this is no brainer–but if you are less familiar with this concept, a good way to begin is incorporating it to your yoga or meditation practice. Start your session with pranayama, focusing on people around you who have need of your positive energy, whether it’s your mom who has been sick lately, or a friend who’s going through a rough breakup. We place so much value on tangible, physical help like donation or money, that we often underestimate the value of our spiritual gifts, which are just as powerful and even more healing.
5. Don’t forget to take care of yourself, too: Giving can be such a powerful high that sometimes we stretch ourselves thin in order to give to other people. So give as much as you are able to without resentment or difficulty. It’s totally okay to gradually increase that threshold–with practice.
What is your favorite way to be more giving?
Related: How to Practice Compassion toward People You Don’t Like
Practicing Random Acts of Kindness
Photo: (ovo) via Flickr; Peaceful Dumpling