When it comes to studying human behavior, people have had different theories over the past centuries. While some of them were based on observation in their responses and interactions in their respective social setups, many studies also involved the human brain and its responses to understand what was happening. Nevertheless, there is no doubt about one thing, that is: Human beings love to be loved! In such cases, to earn or receive love, they also give it. And the expression of affections comes through actions and words. One wonderful act that our species have adapted is giving money to the needy to help them. And this (yes, you guessed it right) is what charity is all about, helping the less fortunate willingly.
However, one cannot help but wonder about the inevitable question: what is in it for us? What goes on in our brain that ultimately results in us giving our own hard-earned money to someone else?
How does the brain work?
The brain is the most complicated component of the human body. This organ serves as the center of intellectual prowess, the preprocessor of senses, the activator of physical movement, and the regulator of behavior. It is the place that decides what to do with all the information that it gets. How we act, what we speak, the feelings we associate with events or people, this and much more is controlled by this marvelous organ. So, what do we associate with charity? Typically, the feeling of wellness comes from helping someone out, however, that is. But, does a part of our brain not fight us to keep our money to ourselves?
The part that makes us give away
The feeling of wellness might be because of the reward system. The brain reward system is a cerebral circuit that produces excitement when activated by anything we appreciate, such as eating delicious pasta. When this reward circuit is triggered, our brains recognize that something significant is taking place that should be remembered and repeated.
The part that makes us keep it
The part of our brain that stops us from giving away money, can be explained by different theories. When you notice incoherence between your mindsets and/or behaviors, you experience cognitive dissonance[i]. As a result, a person attempts to justify his or her preferences or behavior to make themselves feel better. Assume someone decided to donate once because they genuinely believe in your motive, but they make the choice not to donate again because they are awkward. As a result, they use objections to justify their feelings. Such as, “Oh, they probably have other donors that pay them more money, they don’t need mine”.
Us and our behavior
Our charitable contributions can encourage our loved ones to donate to causes that are meaningful to them, and they may even spark a family-wide effort to promote a charity or charities that are especially important to these people, collectively. Did you know that besides encouraging other people to do better, these acts of kindness also affect our health, positively? That is right! There are innumerable ways to give back, each with its own set of benefits. Volunteering and assisting friends and associates can result in a variety of benefits, ranging from lowering blood pressure to a lower death rate.
When a person donates money to a cause in which they believe, their brain activity tends to change. There is an evident neurological basis for human altruism; that is, researchers can see how trying to give charity increases operation in the brain’s reward system through brain scans and studies. Giving is thought to be inspired by humans’ deep desire to find meaning in their lives. For the majority of people, meaning is inextricably linked to community connections. Humans desire a sense of belonging and a sense of purpose in their lives. Giving in the form of their energy, time or money is an important method through which we seek meaning.
The happy hormones
Altruistic behavior is based on altruism, and it is selfless consideration for others. That means doing things simply because a person wants to help, rather than because they feel that they are bound to do it due to duty, allegiance, or religious beliefs. It entails acting out of concern for the welfare of others. In certain cases, these actions of altruism cause people to put themselves in danger to help others. These behaviors are frequently carried out unconditionally and without any expectation of remuneration. Other incidences of reciprocal altruism encompass doing things to help others with the assumption that they will do the same for you.
One of the few very important hormones that make us feel good about this altruistic behavior is called the endorphins, or the happy hormones. These hormones make us feel so good about giving, that a person who helps feels high on these happy hormones, hence the term, “Helper’s high”.
Mental health and charitable acts
We are all aware that giving benefits others, whether we enlist for NGOs, provide comfort and support to others, or give money to charities. But how beneficial is the pleasant feeling that one gets from helping others, for our health?
Generosity has been shown in studies to improve both physical and mental health. Engagement with others who are supportive also aids recovery from coronary events. According to the scientists, people who volunteer their time and money to help others through society and organizations have higher self-esteem, reduced depression, and stress reduction than those who do not take part in such activities[ii]. In today’s world where everyone seems sad or in grief, giving away money to help people would not only benefit the less fortunate but also help us, in return.
To summarize, human beings give because it makes them feel good. Their brain releases endorphins and it further encourages them to repeat this noble task that not only helps society but also their mental and physical health.