Sep 11, 2008

Giving Makes a Body Feel Good

And now, with the election looming ahead of us like a super-sized speed bump, let's take a moment to remember what binds people together regardless of party: Helping others, or so scientists continue to say.

I confess I sometimes get tired of the arguments as to whether there's a "helping gene," or whatever -- it's obvious that some people like to give and share, while others have forgotten whatever such instincts they might have once had, and science isn't going to help fundraisers cross the latter group over into the former.

But reading an article by David Korten called "We Are Hard-Wired to Care" in the Fall 2008 issue of Yes! magazine reminded me of one important thing: For those in the business of asking other people for money, it pays to get re-inspired once in a while. And some of the scientific insights can do just that.
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For example, Korten describes research with advanced imaging technology showing that people who think about another human being harmed have the exact same reaction in their brain as mothers who actually see distress on the face of their baby. Then given a chance to help out, the pleasure centers in the brains of people studied light up, which Korten says "benefits our health by boosting our immune system, reducing our heart rate, and preparing us to approach and soothe."

Okay, it doesn't get much better than that. By showing people how they can make a difference (and in the case of giving money, with minimal time commitment on their part) fundraisers can actually improve their health!

One thing that occurs to me, however, is that I don't always get that flush of good feeling from writing a check as often as I do from more direct interactions, like walking the dogs at my local Humane Society. I think that shows the importance of both good setup and follow-through. The more a fundraiser can do to make a problem come alive in the brain of a potential donor, the better. And then to complete the brain circuit loop, send a thank-you letter that doesn't sound like a generic tax receipt, but drives home the fact that the donor HAS TRULY HELPED another person, or a forest, creature, cause, or whatever. I can feel the donors' immune systems getting stronger already.