This is Joy of Giving week. And my advice to you is to give to yourself. To be as selfish as you can possibly be. Yes, I mean it. After all if you do not give to yourself what will truly give you the greatest joy and pleasure and satisfaction and well being, what use is life? Correct? Correct. So let’s see what that entails, for all of us, yes each and every one of us.
Selfishness is defined as being concerned chiefly with one’s own personal pleasure or profit. But are we aware of what truly gives us pleasure and profit – profit for life?
Several scientific studies have been conducted to see what happens in our brains while performing different functions or being engaged in different pleasurable acts. A recent one at Harvard mapped brain activity of volunteers engaged in sex with a loved one, and compared them to those engaged in helping or giving to others. The brain mapping showed that nearly the same areas of the brain lit up for both activities, with about the same intensity! This meant that the act of helping someone or giving to someone creates as many feel good endorphins as the best and most satisfying sex with your beloved.
Another interesting study was conducted in the late 80s by Allan Luks and documented in his 1991 book, The Healing Power of Doing Good: The Health and Spiritual Benefits of Helping Others…
Luks’ study involved 3,000 volunteers of all ages at more than 20 organizations throughout the United States. He sent a 17-question survey to these volunteers, asking them how they felt when they did a kind act. An analysis of the responses indicated a clear cause-and-effect relationship between helping and good health. “Helping contributes to the maintenance of good health, and it can diminish the effect of diseases and disorders both serious and minor, psychological and physical”, Luks concluded.
The volunteers in Luks’ study said they felt a rush of euphoria, followed by a longer period of calm, after performing a kind act. This feeling, which Luks calls “helper’s high,” involves physical sensations that strongly indicate a sharp reduction in stress and the release of the body’s natural painkilling endorphins. A longer-lasting period of improved emotional well-being was reported after such an act of kindness. Follow ups over the next many months revealed that continued volunteering and giving of their time and talent resulted in consistently lower levels of stress.
So, as a selfish being concerned with your own health and happiness, your well being lies in giving; giving of what you have, of your time, of your talents. Next time you are stressed out of your mind, cannot sleep, are irritable, feel hurrumph-ish or whatever, do not reach for that drink, cigarette, or counsellor’s couch. Help someone; volunteer, give of your time, belongings or self.
And there is more. Over thirty years ago while working on my Ph.D, I discovered (through over 900 interviews and questionnaires) that Indians held the highest respect for people who had all the power or wealth in the world but had renounced it. Yes they thought of the Tatas and Birlas with admiration, but the Tata policy of giving over 60% of profits to help others meant that they were more respected. Sadhus were too, as were those in power, who had stepped out of the rat race for the sake of the common good. And while this might have changed somewhat in the last two decades of greed, I don’t think it is altogether different today. Look at the way we speak of Gates and Warren Buffet. Or of Soros (sorry no Indian comparisons exist). They have gone much beyond setting up foundations from the profits of their companies. They have given away practically their entire personal wealth for the betterment of humanity and the planet. And the world salutes them for that. Yes they were respected and envied when they were the richest. But they have much more love and admiration and gratitude now.
Whichever way you look at it, if you want to be really selfish and think only of your own mental and physical well being, your only guaranteed path is that of giving. No amount of watching your paper money grow as the Sensex swells, no amount of shopping, nor of conspicuous consumption and Rs 50 crore weddings at palaces around the world will give you the feeling of warmth and satisfaction as the simple act of giving.
So, be selfish. Give. And give again.