Self-leadership: Week 4

How giving back helps you find your purpose

We make a living by what we get; we make a life by what we give

— Winston Churchill

We’ve all grown up hearing the old saying that it’s better to give than receive. But there’s more this idea than you might think. Today, scientific research provides compelling data that indicates giving your time, talents and treasures is a powerful pathway to finding purpose and meaning in life. 

Several brain-scanning experiments demonstrate that donating to a worthy cause leads to activation in the dopamine reward pathway, which is the same part of the brain that gets activated when we have sex, or eat a slice of chocolate cake. In fact, it’s been shown that we experience more ‘reward’ activation when we give money than when we receive it. In other words, from the brain’s perspective, giving is literally better than getting.

These experiments show us that altruism is hardwired in our brain—and not only that, it’s also a pleasurable way to spend our time. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and purposeful. That being said, it’s not about giving to any cause that knocks on our door. We derive the most meaning and purpose by giving to the things we truly care about, which is why it’s important to align your charitable activities to your passions and your motivations.

The giving effect

Alongside the benefits to health, happiness and wellbeing, giving also has a wider ripple effect on the people around us:

Giving encourages a culture of giving 

Giving is contagious—it’s been proven that watching others give makes the observer more likely to engage in an act of giving. Giving also creates a habit of giving—in three recent experiments, participants who had spent time volunteering before were more likely to donate their time than those who had never volunteered.

Giving strengthens communities

When people choose to give, they come together from different sectors and communities in the name of a common cause. This is a key contributing factor in strengthening communities and reminds us all that we have more in common than we think.

Giving reminds us of what we have

If you know that you need to share your resources with somebody, it immediately makes you conscious about what it is that you have, and grateful for your access to those precious resources. It makes us live more mindfully and appreciate the value of our resources, which in turn makes us more likely to recognise the need to share them with those less fortunate.

Additional reading/listening

For an interesting perspective on how the science of giving applies within a workplace, listen to organisational psychologist Adam Grant’s take on giving, taking, and why helping others is an important motivator in the office.

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Connect with your charitable self

As you uncover ways that charity can play a role in uncovering happiness and purpose in our lives, I encourage you this week to find your own way to give back.

This week, I would like you to write a list of the ways that you would like to or could afford to support your community and beyond. Write a list of organisations, charities or people that you would like to support and determine how much time, resources or money you might like to contribute.

Research the organisations and phone or email to understand if there is a way that you could assist in a small way as you understand the landscape.

It might be cooking for food programs, helping out in the canteen at school, visiting your local nursing home to help support the residents, or it might be working with your asylum seeker resource centre or another charity.

You needn’t commit more than you can spare—a little bit of help goes a long way. It could be volunteering one day per month or it might even be donating 1% of your salary.

If you get stuck, jump into our FB group and shout out for some ideas. You might even find a buddy in your area who you can team up with.

I can’t wait to see what amazing ideas our community comes up with.