By Bruce DeBoskey
The DeBoskey Group
POSTED: 08/11/2013 12:01:00 AM MDT| UPDATED: ABOUT A YEAR AGO
Any discussion of philanthropy usually focuses on how a giver can help others — other people, other organizations or entities, or even the world. But a growing body of scientific evidence demonstrates that acts of philanthropy strongly benefit the giver as well.
Researchers call these benefits the "helper's high" and "giver's glow."
"Every great moral and spiritual tradition points to the truth that in the giving of self lies the discovery of a deeper self," said Dr. Stephen Post, who was the keynote speaker at the Purposeful Planning Institute's 2013 Rendezvous, which I attended this month in Colorado.
"When the happiness, security and well-being of others become real to us, we come into our own," Post said. "Creativity, meaning, resilience, health and even longevity can be enhanced as a surprising byproduct of contributing to the lives of others. This is perennial wisdom, and science now says it is so."
Post is a professor of preventive medicine and bioethics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine. He focuses on the relationship between giving and happiness, longevity and health, and is the author of "The Hidden Gifts of Helping and Why Good Things Happen to Good People."
According to brain scans, the mere thought of helping others by planning to make a donation makes people happier.
Such thoughts activate the mesolimbic pathway in the brain that is associated with happiness and production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain's reward and pleasure centers. Actual face-to-face helping also triggers areas of the brain associated with happiness.
In the United States, millions of adults volunteer their time to help other people or a specific cause. This "giving" population reports:
• An improved sense of well-being (89 percent).
• Lower stress levels (73 percent).
• Better physical health (68 percent).
• Enhanced emotional health (77 percent).
• Enriched sense of purpose in life (92 percent).
• Increased happiness (96 percent).
One of the top five factors contributing to lower depression rates is "giving to neighbors and communities," according to a study conducted in Great Britain.
When researchers at Harvard University showed one group a film about Mother Teresa's work and another group a neutral film, they were able to document an increase in the production of protective antibodies in those who watched the film about "giving."
Volunteering frequently to help others is associated with delayed mortality among older adults, according to a Stanford University study.
Plus, a study of elders in assisted living shows that helping activities improved residents' mental health by creating positive attitudes toward aging,