hands hold out a wrapped gift in offering

Debt-Free for the Holidays

By The Intelligent Optimist

Good to Give — Research has proven that giving has benefits that go far beyond the recipient.

We’ve all felt the high that comes from giving. Now, science suggests there is a biological basis for it. When researchers gave subjects some money and a list of causes to which they might contribute and tracked their brain activity when they did so, they found that the mere thought of giving money to charity activated the primitive part of the brain associated with the pleasures of eating and having sex. Functional MRIs indicated that donating money stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, the reward center in the brain.

So are we neurologically programmed (and biochemically rewarded) to give because we get an evolutionary advantage by strengthening social bonds, which helps ensure the survival of the group? Quite possibly, since the impulse can even be seen in one of our closest primate relatives, the bonobo.

But giving doesn’t only strengthen social bonds and make you feel good—it can also impact your health, both physical and mental. Writer Cami Walker experienced this firsthand. In her early 30s, newly married and working a high-powered advertising job, Walker was stricken with multiple sclerosis (MS). Within two years, she quit her job, developed an addiction to prescription drugs, and became dependent on her husband.

One night, in a state of depression, she called her friend Mbali Creazzo, a South African medicine woman who draws from the Dagara African tradition and has also been a pioneer in integrative medicine in San Francisco. Creazzo prescribed a ritual: Give away 29 gifts in 29 days.

On Day One, Walker decided to give the gift of her time and attention to a friend who was in a more advanced stage of MS. Her friend was ecstatic to hear from her, and they made a plan to get together.

Walker continued her giving ritual and chronicled her experiences in the 2009 New York Times bestseller 29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life. On Day 29, her gift was the launch of an online challenge site, 29Gifts.org, ­intended “to inspire a worldwide revival of the giving spirit.” Some 11,000 people in 48 countries signed up, shared online journals about their own 29-day giving rituals and raised thousands of dollars for charities.

Those working in the field of alternative currencies believe that the capitalist exchange system naturally creates scarcity. Many of the indigenous societies were and are gift-giving societies, based on mothering values, which are egalitarian and non-hierarchical. In ­contemporary Western society, such practices as community gardens, freeware, Creative Commons licensing, couch surfing and bartering are all forms of gift-giving economics.

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About The Author

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The Intelligent Optimist (formerly Ode) is an independent international media platform focused on solutions, possibility and inspiration. We present optimism as the most effective, efficient and by scientific research confirmed strategy to drive the innovation and creativity that are necessary to solve the problems and meet the challenges that people and society face.

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