Have you finished your holiday shopping? Perhaps you haven’t even started it yet? Either way, please pause for a moment to reflect on the nature of giving. You’ll see that it is more natural than you think, and drives your WHealth substantially.
Of course, it’s fun to both give and receive holiday gifts. There is the excitement of discovering a long-wanted treasure hiding behind festive wrapping. Or more importantly, we love the anticipation in seeing our spouse, or best friend or children’s faces when they receive and open your gift. Families and homes are filled with more smiles and good feelings at this time of year than most others. There’s good reason for this.
Let’s start by thanking Mother Nature. It’s all her design. You see, she built us in a way that we’re both incentivized and rewarded to give.
All higher order mammals, including human beings, have an elaborate collection of brain centers that we will call “the emotional brain”. This distinguishes us from reptiles and other cold-blooded (and largely cold-hearted) creatures. Mother Nature gifted us with our emotional brains to give us a selective advantage. She realized that there was a better way to thrive than other early life forms had developed.
Instead of giving birth to a thousand tiny babies, and hoping desperately that a few would survive, she decided that it would be both more efficient and more effective for us to have only one or two offspring at a time. To be successful at this new approach, we needed to live differently from our cold-hearted neighbors. We had to nurture our young. She built our complex emotional brains to enable this.
Similarly, she decided that we would survive better if we collaborated with our peers. This would advantage us over the cold-hearted species that looked after themselves, living an isolated, survival-oriented life. Mother Nature built the hardware and software into our developing emotional brains that facilitates collaboration. With these two assets, we and other mammals became warm-hearted, social creatures.
But it wasn’t enough to simply make the changes in our brain; she needed to change our behavior. It wasn’t enough to have the capability to nurture and collaborate; she needed to give us a reason to do so. In her wisdom, Mother Nature added an elaborate incentive and reward system. She created the chemical orchestra that makes social engagement enticing. She gave us emotional “highs” each time we engaged in pro-social activities. Soon, we craved these good feelings, and our social nature became entrenched, and our survival rates climbed.
She didn’t stop here though. In addition to the rush of happiness associated with generous acts, Mother Nature built in long-term rewards. She made sure that those who were more giving lived longer, had better immune health, lower levels of systemic inflammation (that usually triggers diseases like heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and even cancer) and more robust mental performance.
In order to incentivize and reward “good” behavior, Mother Nature promises us health and happiness. So, as you rush through your last minute shopping, remember why we give. It’s the act of giving, rather than the gift that really counts.