Learn The Art Of Giving
Although the English language dictates that we exchange gifts, the idea of commodification and profiteering from the activity defeats the purpose behind the concept of gifting. There are several reasons that people may be willing to give, especially when giving to charity. Apart from the obvious tax benefits, there is a sense of being in a position of power by being able to give. Or, there is a tendency for gifting to be associated with the ‘you scratch my back, and I scratch yours’ formula. But how often does that hold true?
Mansi Poddar, a clinical psychologist from Kolkata believes that humans have always been altruistic. “We could not have survived as a species if we were all selfish, all the time,” she says. “People tend to give freely because at times they feel that it is the right thing to do,” she continues. Nivedita Chalill, of Arth an institute that focuses on counselling and therapy based on arts, has a similar perspective, but with a different nuance. She says “There are multiple examples that go beyond the survival of our individual genes, from larger acts of heroism to the ‘small’ ones that we see every day. Having a degree of empathy to see the suffering of others and recognising our own interdependence with a larger collective contributes and creates the culture of giving.”
She further explains, “Think about a moment when you received great kindness from your parents, friends, teachers, or even doctors. What did that feel like? Now, imagine everyone feeling the same, throughout the day, every day,” says Nivedita. “The world then would always be a kind and helpful place.” But what exactly does this feeling of joy and gratitude mean? What does it entail? One essential part for that feeling of happiness and gratitude is the Happiness Trifecta – oxytocin, serotonin, and dopamine. These three hormones deeply affect the manner in which your body functions, both psychologically, as well as physiologically.
Oxytocin or the love hormone as it is popularly known inculcates a prosocial behaviour and leads to a better society, as well as personal lives. As per a joint study by the Swedish University of Agricultural Sciences and the Karolinska Institute of Sweden, it also facilitates healing of flesh wounds, by reducing inflammation, pain, and regenerating tissues. Oxytocin in the bloodstream is also responsible for tackling high blood pressure. Several of the effects of oxytocin mimic the effects of antidepressants like sertraline, and fluoxetine.
Dopamine is associated with pleasure. Medically, dopamine is used for treating decreased blood plasma. According to an article published by Parkinson’s News Today, the brain stops manufacturing dopamine, which in turn causes the erratic movement and tremors that have come to be associated with Parkinson’s.
Administering a regulated dose of dopamine is a step in controlling Parkinson’s. Inversely, if the brain is unable to regulate the levels of dopamine in the body, chances of having Parkinson’s increases exponentially. As per a study conducted by the US Air Force Research Laboratory, apart from severe motor skills and muscle impairment, low dopamine levels also hamper cognitive abilities and sleep, which in turns adversely affects one’s decision-making ability.
Serotonin contributes directly to one’s sense of well being and happiness. Many studies on depression have shown low levels of serotonin in patients suffering from depression. Most antidepressants are designed to increase the production of serotonin. A research paper, published by the University of Pennsylvania, showed that an abnormal level of serotonin caused several sleeping disorders, as well as digestive issues, and even issues with one’s appetite. Additionally, serotonin also facilitates faster learning and better memory.
What all this essentially means, is that participating in charity, volunteering, and giving freely may actually lead to a healthier life. Research funded by an American organisation called the Corporation for National and Community Service claimed that irrespective of their age, people who volunteer tend to have a higher sense of accomplishment, and generally lived longer. “Plus, it helps with your relationships,” says Mansi. “Kindness in itself is medicine. It has been observed that many patients of depression, when practising kindness, by giving away, and volunteering for social causes, tend to drastically improve their mood, and boost their morale, and self-esteem,” she continues.
For humanity in general, perhaps it would be a good idea to embrace this notion of altruism and kindness. Nivedita shares an observation, saying “We see the effect of an individualistic culture all around us; a scarcity mentality that leads to hoarding/excesses for some, and deprivation and extinction for others. I see this leading to increased anxiety, depression and stress. Maybe it’s time to recognise that this approach is not working for us and we need to try something else.”