Giving – The Magic Way To Succeed

giving the magic way to succeed

Human beings are hard-wired to give.  It turns out, according to a neurological study in 2006, that just thinking about helping someone lights up a part of your brain associated with feel good chemicals. That’s according to Stephen Post, author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People who says that helping others brings a level of happiness that is hard to get in any other way.

That happiness is sometimes called the “helper’s high.You’ve have no doubt felt it when you did something nice for someone. But there is also something a bit mystical about giving. Now, I am not a big believer in finding success merely by wishing it so or from any other magic formula – except this one.  I have experienced firsthand how good things happen to people who do good things.  More about that in a moment but first let’s look at the science.

No one has studied giving as much as Stephen Post.  He has written books on the subject and had a fascinating, 15 year history working with the late Sir John Templeton (Templeton Mutual Funds) on the subject of unlimited love. Along with Templeton he founded the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love.

Stephen says that according to the in the science of happiness:

stephen post

Stephen Post

You can’t really pursue happiness directly. There’s a limit to what material abundance will bring. In the end it’s a by-product of helping others.”

Studies going back to the 1920’s have looked at young people who have a “nobility of purpose” – in other words they want to use their talents to help others. What they found is fascinating. As they age, those people are shielded from depression and stress-induced illnesses over the entire course of their lifetimes. And odds are they’ll be living a little longer than people who never quite catch the spirit of being a giver.

You know the idea of “what goes around comes around?” Or what you give you get back? Stephen has studied this and there really does seem to be something to it. He calls it, “The theory of social capital, which says that when we contribute to the lives of others, we’re like squirrels burying nuts for the winter – we can expect some kind of a benefit back.”

As I mentioned, I have experienced this somewhat mystical “payback” and I bet you have too. (I would love to hear your stories if you would write them in the comments box at the bottom of this webpage). For a few years, I delivered Meals on Wheels a few times a week. It was a very humbling and rewarding experience. And all the while I did that, new opportunities and new ways of making money seemed to magically show up in my life.

A few years ago I took on a volunteer project that took nine months to complete. My wife, who is a nurse, had a 17-year old patient named Paul, who had an inoperable brain tumor. He was a wonderful guy who had been dealt a horrible hand in life. It turned out he was a big Miley Cyrus fan so my wife asked if I had any connections to arrange a meeting with her. Having worked in radio my whole career and being in Los Angeles, I figured, “How hard can it be?”

For the next nine months I heard nothing but no. “She’s on tour, she is too busy, she can’t possibly….etc. Eventually I found someone who could help. He actually was the person who runs Miley’s charity. (In fact, despite her image, Miley Cyrus gives a lot of time and money helping others, though you don’t hear a lot about it. I have a lot of respect for her.)


Miley & Paul

Anyway, with his help, we pulled it off and one evening, Miley walked up to him and completely surprised him (see photo). I was on a high for days.  I wish I could have bottled that feeling. And again, I noticed good things happening to me.

But what was going on really? It’s hard for me to accept the “what goes around comes around” theory on its face.  From talking to Stephen Post, it turns out that the high I experience – and every giver experiences has real physical and mental consequences beyond just feeling good. People who suffer chronic pain report that giving helps alleviate their pain.  People who suffer from depression report that giving lightens their mood significantly. People with anxiety report a drop in feeling anxious.

My theory is that the helper’s high makes us look at our own lives differently. We see things that we might not have noticed otherwise. We are more open to new things in our lives having helped others in theirs.  I think it renews our confidence and self-esteem giving  us the fuel to try new things. Whatever the reason, it just seems to work. What goes around REALLY DOES come around.

And it doesn’t take a lot of effort to get these rewards. About 41% of Americans volunteer. On average it’s just a few hours a week. But even at that level, all the benefits I’ve discussed come flowing into those people’s lives, says Stephen Post.

In a sense giving is selfish. You get so much back from doing it. Someone once told me (though I’ve never been able to find the actual quote) that Mother Teresa once said something to the effect of, “If we all took care of our own little corner of the world, imagine what this world would be like.” Whether she said it or not, I couldn’t agree more.

I’ve often dreamed of one day starting a charity. It’s selfish really. I imagine having those wonderful feelings running through me while at the same time making someone’s life easier. What could be better? Until I win the lottery or someone sends me $1 million, I’ll keep doing what I can and encouraging others to do the same.

Please tell me your stories of giving and getting back.  I’d really like to hear them. Go to the comments box at the end of the bottom of this webpage or email me at

And please feel free to share this post on Facebook or Twitter.

photo credit: Bill Collison via photopin cc
Giving The Magic Way To Succeed

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  1. Terry Leatherman says:

    I read with interest your article, “Giving-The Magic way to Succeed”, and could not agree more with the content and basic premise you espoused.

    I have volunteered in the Emergency Department (ED) of the busiest ED in Pennsylvania for the past sixteen years and with all that I have been blessed to accomplish in my life (3 children, college degree, successful GM of a small business, Ultra-Marathon runner, etc.), volunteering has given and continues to give me by far the greatest personal satisfaction of all that I have done. The environment in which I volunteer is a very intense and emotionally challenging one, and I have been asked hundreds of times how and why I do it. My answer is always the same, “I am there to help the patients and their families attend to their needs which the competent but busy staff can not always address, and whatever I am able to give is returned to me ten fold in personal satisfaction and the feeling that I am making a real difference with something I have blessed to do in my life”.

    Throughout the sixteen years, and at present, I am going through some very difficult personal experiences (as everyone does), and the hours I spend volunteering are the perfect elixir to help pull me through those difficult. I was blessed to have a very good, well paying job and made many, many friends (and a few enemies) and was able to provide well for my family, but at the end of the day, it was only job, and while what I did made a difference in the business world, did anyone care, and would anyone remember what I accomplished? Did I make a difference in the emotional and spiritual quality of my customers and employees lives? Did people look at me and say, “What you are doing is special and there should be more people like you”? The answer to all and many other similarly related questions is no. However, sincerely give of yourself, your time and your heart, and if people ask those questions, the answer will be a resounding yes. People ask how can I put in all of the hours that I do without getting paid? There is no way to compare the compensation I receive from volunteering with measurable dollars and cents. Some people will take the money, I’m fine with the smiles, hugs, tears and warmth that I receive.

    I could go on and on about my passion for you wrote, but I think you get the point. Hopefully at least one person will read your article and decide, “Money’s not enough, I need more than that”.

    Thank you and keep the good stuff coming.

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