Change Makers

5 things that happen to your body when you’re generous and give

what happens to your body when you give - 5 things
Last Christmas, my kids generously saved more than $40 to purchase goats and chickens through World Vision’s Gift Catalog for people around the world. Now $40 may not sound like much, but considering they have no allowance and only receive the occasional $5 from birthdays or holidays, that’s really something. Likely, that accounts for about 50 percent of their net worth given away to children and families they will never meet. Lots of children are even more generous.

Even the wealthiest donors don’t give away all their money. But time and again, children do.

Perhaps even more amazing is how excited kids are to be generous and give. My own children were giddy as they paged through the Gift Catalog and circled the items they most wanted to give.

Why are children like this? Well, it turns out that joyful generosity is a normal human state — we’re biologically wired for sacrificial giving.

God has designed our bodies to be compassionate.

1. Joy released

The Apostle Paul says to give joyfully (2 Corinthians 9:6-7), so perhaps that’s why God designed our bodies to be really happy about our giving.

Oxytocin is a powerful brain chemical that has a number of uses in our bodies. In women, it is essential for childbirth, for example. Research says the neurochemical gives us feelings of warmth toward others, and it’s one of the chemical bases for our enjoyment of giving. A late-night session of board games with good friends or hugging a companion produces an oxytocin rush. Acts of compassion spur our bodies to create more oxytocin, which encourages even more compassion.

2. Spiritual growth enhanced

Giving and other forms of compassion do more than release brain chemicals. They stimulate areas of the brain that are involved in prayer. The anterior cingulate is involved in a lot of our thinking — our memory, attention, and motivation — but it’s also active in prayer, empathy, and compassion.

Since brain cells work in the same way as muscle cells — they get stronger the more you use them — prayer enhances our compassion, and compassion grows us spiritually.

3. Connections strengthened

Humans have a unique kind of neuron called the von Economo, which branches out to nearly every area of the brain and seems to be specialized in developing social awareness skills. Our ability to pick up someone’s body language, to interpret a voice inflection, and to recognize when someone gives us a “look” relies on the von Economo neuron. So does our ability to connect with others through our own body language.

Once again, compassion exercises and develops this important brain cell.

4. Good gut feelings promoted

The vagus nerve aids our digestion. But it also is known as “the care-taking organ” because of its involvement when we are caring for others.

When researchers showed a video of a woman injured in an accident, they measured the vagus nerves of their subjects, as well as heart rate and stress levels. Those who reported feeling the most compassionate also showed reduced stress and lower heart rates. Researchers have connected activity in the vagus nerve to feeling optimism, physical health, and greater artistic appreciation.

5. Body healed

When scientists wanted to determine which multiple sclerosis treatment would work best, they had no idea that recruiting others who suffered from the illness would lead them in an unexpected direction. One group of subjects would learn coping skills. The others would be able to discuss their illness with fellow multiple sclerosis sufferers. After two years, the results were clear. Neither group improved as much as those who offered help by listening. Giving — in this case, giving help — turned out to improve a person’s health more than anything else.

Perhaps the best thing scientists have discovered about compassion is that we can cultivate it. Our desire to give grows the more we give. And it turns out that we’re better off because of it.

5 things that happen to your body when you give | charitable giving | why giving to charity is good for youRob Moll, a former communications officer to World Vision U.S. President Richard Stearns, is the author of What Your Body Knows About God: How we’re designed to connect, serve and thrive.

Charitable Giving

View All Stories
Father's Day gift ideas - tools, seeds and training for farmers
Change Makers

Father’s Day gift ideas that pay it forward

Ezekiel and his mom Rachael race to the finish line in a 5K color dash in Saint Peter, Minnesota, in June, 2013. The event was organized by “Livestock,” a non-profit music festival, founded by Jill and Alex Hass, to provide animals through World Vision’s Gift Catalog. “This was our first color dash,” says Rachel. “The picture captures his attitude toward life.” She added that “Loving others and helping them is central to our goal to further Christ's Kingdom by showing love. Running the race, and donating money toward World Vision and other charities is important to us because it helps us think outside of ourselves.”
Change Makers

10 fun family activities to play it forward