Generations of neuroscientists and evolutionary biologists have questioned where joy originates? What makes us want to help others, an action that always comes at personal cost even if we don’t feel we’re making a sacrifice? What is the instinct to be charitable when we know there won’t be any returns for our deeds except, perhaps, the good feeling that comes with the joy of giving!
The advance of imaging techniques, such as functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), has made it possible for scientists to visualize the brain’s activity. They have learned that altruism originates in a region deep in the brain involved in primal desires including sex and food and the feeling of satisfaction. These studies were reported in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences. What they evidence, for the first time, that the “joy of giving” has an anatomical base.
While science can explain the origination of feelings such as joy, it is within our power, our own decision making to instigate acts of giving. This season in particular we may wish to give generously, yet the gift of joy cannot necessarily be bought in a store. We’ve asked a number of people to name their acts of giving that cost few dollars or nothing at all. These are their suggestions:
• Give a love weekend. Look at your wedding or your first dating pictures. Revisit the places where you first discovered each other. Play the music that was part of your romance over a candlelight dinner. For him his favorite dish, for her favorite flowers. Have a sensuous massage before intimacy. Exchange a note that says why you love each other.
• A computer wizard offered teaching lessons including lessons for the new apple I-Pad.
• Julia invited couples for a piano recital at her home, followed by home-made cookies, cider or eggnog.
• Watch your pals’ kids so they can have a night on the town.
• Volunteer for your friend’s chosen charity.
• Offer to help friends “un-clutter” their lives.
• Museum memberships are reasonable and keep on giving for a whole year.
• Help your friend with his/her resume and job hunting. Your support now counts big time.
• Start a weight loss group. Helping your girl friends shedding pounds and inches and become healthier is a great gift.
• A movie buff offers six movie nights to his friends. He rents the flicks, sets everything up, prepares a great salad, everybody else contributes to the pot luck dinner.
The idea is this; each of us has special talents or skills that can give joy to others. From cooking a dinner to offering friends relief from their responsibilities for a night or a weekend – these are presents that can be surprisingly appreciated.
Think about your family members and friends. What do they like, what makes them happy? Says Dr. Huettel, a neuroscientist at Duke University Medical Center, “to be altruistic, you need to see that the people you’re helping have goals, and that your actions will have consequences for them.” Giving of yourself is a magic potion that spreads warmth and joy.