It’s due to a cocktail of feelgood neurochemicals that are secreted (sorry for the gross word, that’s really the only way to say it) whenever we give anything. Any activity that causes your brain to secrete dopamine, serotonin, and/or oxytocin will boost your mood - and the act of giving causes all three!
Oxytocin is the big daddy of the mood-boosting hormones, as it has the added benefit of counteracting the stress hormone, cortisol. The higher your cortisol level, the more you want to help people - and it boosts the levels of the other two hormones as well. That’s the best kind of addictive.
So what’s giving?
Giving can be anything - time, help, gifts, dinners, smiles - it all gives you a hit of the good stuff. The best way to maintain that feeling is to find ways to give regularly. It’s easy enough to build it in to your day really; take your spouse a cuppa, let someone go ahead of you in scrum to the tube, buy a coffee for the person behind you once in a while, offer to help out a neighbour, organise the next get together with your friends… it’s all giving, and will all help to top up your happiness trifecta.
Why are these chemicals released?
Your brain is set up to help you see things from other people’s POV. The problem is that we get so wrapped up in our own sh*t (sorry, mum), that we forget. Putting yourself in someone else’s shoes, and really understanding how to give them what they need is a great way to exercise your empathy processes. Plus, they get stronger over time - so you’ll get better and giving will get easier.
Ever noticed that when you smile at someone, nine times out of ten, they smile back? That’s your brains’ mirror neurons triggering. Making people smile is a social thing, that positively impacts both the giver and the receiver.
How can you give more?
Treat yourself to a full dose of feelgoods by trying these three free ways of giving:
Make eye contact, make it personal, make them smile - it’ll take you an extra two seconds of thinking time, but make their whole day.
What are some sneaky ways you can give? Prep the coffee pot for the next person at work, leave a note on someone’s desk, a doodle on the mirror for your housemate...
To hell with social constructs. If you saw someone dancing to their headphones at the bus stop, singing their coffee order, or, instead of quickly ignoring the fact that they just made eye contact with someone on the tube, gave them a double-gun-fingers-wink - wouldn’t you feel happy?? You get my drift.