Mind & Body

Ever Experienced A "Helper's High"? There's A Reason For That

Do you get a strange jolt of pleasure when you find the perfect gift for someone? What about when you volunteer to work for a shelter or donate money to your favorite charity? If you're not really the giving type, science says you should give it a shot.

Scouts pick up food donations

The Health Benefits of Altruism

Over the past few decades, scientists have studied the health benefits of selflessness, often referred to as "helper's high." Those who volunteer have lower rates of depression, lower mortality rates, higher self-esteem, and greater functional ability than those who do not volunteer. A 2005 study showed that volunteers actually experience greater benefits than the people receiving their support. So what's going on? In the simplest form, when we give to others selflessly (not expecting anything in return), our brains release dopamine, serotonin, and lots of other happy hormones that make you feel warm and tingly inside.

The Gift That Keeps On Giving

Of course, no one is 100 percent selfless, but one study shows that human brains are actually hard-wired for empathy and generosity. Our brains contain mirror neurons, which, as neuroscientist Marco Lacoboni explains to Six Seconds, are the cells in our brains that "allow us to understand other's actions, intentions, and feelings." When we see someone experiencing grief, for example, we don't need to "think" about their feelings — our mirror neurons let us experience it firsthand.

How does this play into giving? Our brains are following a neural "Golden Rule," so to speak. As neuroscientist Leonardo Christov-Moore tells Live Science: "The more we tend to vicariously experience the states of others, the more we appear to be inclined to treat them as we would ourselves." So if you want to improve your generosity, you should work on feeling more empathetic towards others.

These findings could help researchers better understand children on the autism spectrum who may struggle with social interaction because their mirror neuron systems aren't functioning properly.

Giving Gets You High!

Key Facts In This Video

  1. During the holiday season, people feel temporarily charged to give back and help others. 00:41

  2. When we give to others without expecting something in return, our brain releases a plethora of good-feeling hormones. 01:12

  3. One study found elderly people who helped others had stronger hearts and more longevity. 01:42

Written by Curiosity Staff January 5, 2017

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