eing a member of Junior League of New Orleans means we all have one amazing thing in common – giving back! Whether through our placements or community shifts, we are a part of this organization because we love to lend a helping hand in making our community better. But, have you ever wondered why? Why do you feel the need to be a part of community involvement organizations? Can giving back really make us happy?
Psychology scholars recently conducted a study that aired on PBS explaining why giving is more gratifying than receiving. The study showed the impact giving can have on children as well as the effect of spending on ourselves versus spending on others. In the experiment, half the subjects were given $20 to spend on themselves and the other half had $20 to spend on someone else. JLNO member Chrissy Carmody pointed out, “People who didn’t necessarily need the money might place self-inflicted pressure on themselves on how to spend the money for something they didn’t really need, while those who were instructed to spend it on someone else would find it more enjoyable because they had zero expectations from how it would be spent.”
“We feel a spiritual, energetic and physical shift when we give,” said local therapist Bridget Falcon-Villa, LCSW. “We feel happy and connected.”
Abigail Marsh, a Georgetown University Psychology professor, measured the brain activity of altruistic kidney donors as compared to controls (or those who had not). The amygdala, the region of our brains that responds deals with stress, emotional behavior and motivation, was eight percent larger in those who donated a kidney. Research also showed that those with emotional disorders have a 17 percent smaller amygdala. “The findings are not surprising, but intriguing. It is interesting to see that altruistic givers have larger amygdalas. I see a pattern and similarities in my clients. Our human-ness longs for connection, understanding and belonging. That’s what GIVING gets us,” Bridget said.
We would not seek involvement with community service driven organizations if we weren’t all searching for a certain level of satisfaction or connection with others. “While I’m proud of all of the work I’ve done with the League, I received the most satisfaction from the days when I interacted with the community and other league members at community events like sorting at Second Harvest or building a playground,” said Sustainer Carolyn B. Hennesy. “Even working at Thrift Shop was uplifting when I saw the interaction our staff has with the community and what a wonderful meeting place the store is.”
For those of you who may be in the service field, whether teachers, caregivers or non-profit workers, there is also gratification and happiness in your everyday line of work. “I had never engaged in much volunteer work until I moved here, and I found that I got more joy with my work with JLNO than my high-paying career in California,” Chrissy said. By giving back we receive something far greater than any amount of money can buy. “Giving back in order ‘to get,’ it’s a powerful thing,” said Bridget.
When it comes to children, parents should start them off at a young age. A study was done on toddlers using goldfish and stuffed animals.
Psychologist monitored the facial expressions of the toddlers giving versus receiving goldfish. The study showed that toddlers were the happiest when they were able to give some of their goldfish to the stuffed animals. “I think it’s a top priority as a parent to have a loving and giving child. To show children how good it feels to receive and to encourage them to want to give, shows them empathy, compassion and connection for others,” said Bridget. Showing children at a young age what it means to give back, is a concept and practice that they can keep throughout life.
“I think it’s a top priority as a parent to have a loving and giving child. To show children how good it feels to receive and to encourage them to want to give, shows them empathy, compassion and connection for others.”
Photo provided by Bridget Falcon-Villa
“It feels a little self-serving to suggest that altruism, whether you’re giving money or your time, can be just as beneficial to the giver as the receiver, but I know I have certainly felt that while working with the League. What better motivation than to know that you’re lifting yourself up as you lift others?” Carolyn said.
So the next time you complete a community shift, think about how you feel afterward; and don’t forget using money to buy materialistic items cannot provide long-term happiness, but using it to invest in others can.