April 20 has a variety of meanings leading to various celebrations – some in the moment and others for future generations. For me, it’s a big day I’m conducting a media tour to support my new book, Today We Are Rich. One of the key points of the book is that you can give your way out of burnout. In principle four, Give To Be Rich, I echo Dr. Norman Vincent Peale’s obsersvation: Generosity is a Wonder Drug.
In the spirit of Carpe Diem, I’m claiming 4-20 as a national day of giving, observing and sharing of emotions. Much like Dicken’s Scrooge, anyone can lift their spirits dramatically by giving, helping, volunteering or directly donating to those in need. Researches have a name for the medicinal power of giving: Helper’s High.
When you share what you have to help others, in that moment, you are worth something – and it will help you ease any pain. Looking for a blanket to throw over your blues? Here’s what Dr. Stephen Post of the Institute For Research on Unlimited Love would deal to you: “To rid yourself of negative emotional states, push them aside with positive emotional states and the simplest way to do that is to just go out and lend a helping hand to somebody.”
Looking for a buzz? Volunteer. Women participating in a study by the Institute For The Advancement Of Health reported that after volunteering time to help others, they had a physical experience similar to meditation or a vigorous workout. In a compilation of fifty studies recently published by Case Western University’s Stephen Post, the exact phenom becomes clear: When we perceive that we’ve helped someone, we trigger the reward center in our brain, which produces Dopamines, Endorphins and Serotonins. These powerful chemicals give us feelings of profound joy, calmness and spiritual connection. We get as high as a kite, or gain the internal/chemical feeling of true Richness.
We lift off, emotionally, and it lasts for days, sometimes weeks. Researchers found that you could reinject yourself with the WonderDrug Of Helping just by thinking about it (but you need to focus your energies on recollecting all the details to generate empathy). During my book tour stop in Franklin TN, I had a cup of coffee with Sandy Griffin, fellow author and big giver to the homeless in greater Nashville. As she recounted how she secured some corrective shoes for one of her new friends, and the difference it would make to his quality of life – she lit up, high on the loving-giving experience. Proof positive that this research is true!
In his research, Dr. Post also observed that when we are in Helping Mode, our body produces Oxytocin, which is known as the “bonding hormone.” When faced with a crisis or a problem, people on Helper’s High spring into “Tend and Mend” mode, instead of the more aggressive “Fight Or Flight” mode. In other words, Helper’s High brings out the emotion of trust and nurture.
And that’s not all, choosy drug shoppers, you also get relief from Helping too! In a surprising study back in 1956, stay-at-home moms had less emotional stress markers than the breadwinners, because their mothering gave them natural relief. Post explains it this way: Helper’s High (fueled by the brain’s reward center) dominate Cortisol, the stress hormone. Help and you’ll conquer stress, and according to research in teens as well as adults: You’ll beat most depression too.
Giving is a WonderDrug, the only one to take when you need a dose of Euphoria or a cure for the blues or a stressful life. It lasts much longer, probably costs you less than substance or alcohol and more importantly – converts your selfish approach to ‘coping with life’ to a life of service and significance. Try it out today, you’ll see. Turn up for ‘helper’s radar’ and find an opportunity to do something helpful for someone. The research warns that writing a check or texting a donation will NOT produce the high, you need direct contact with someone you generally care about or feel sympathy towards. Give encouragement, a hot meal, a hand up or some volunteer time. Keep your eyes open for the difference you make and savor the high that will come. Make a note to reinject your psyche with the experience on May 1. It’ll work then too!