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Could this be the Miracle Drug for Health & Well-Being?

June 23, 2014

 giving

It’s Week 4 of Summer of Well-Being!

If you’re new to our community, WELCOME! WE ARE SO HAPPY TO HAVE YOU! You can find all previous blogs/vlogs here.

On Thursday we welcome a vlog by Mike Rosenfeld, Peak Performance Coach who works with CEOs, Entrepreneurs, and Athletes/Olympians. Mike is going to teach us how to access our “Brilliant Zone!” I can’t wait for his video! His energy is CONTAGIOUS, and I know you’ll appreciate what he has to offer us this week.

Today, I close out my blogging about Arianna Huffington’s book, Thrive. This book is truly a gift for everyone, but in my opinion, more specifically for high-achieving and successful professionals and executives who know in their gut that there is a “better way” to operate and to define success, and certainly, a better way to feel about our work, our impact, our relationships, and our well-being. I’ve been picking parts of the book that resonate strongly for me, and I invite you to do the same for yourself.

The last chapter in Thrive is all about giving. In the very beginning of the chapter Arianna states,

“Well-being, Wisdom, Wonder: All are critical to redefining success and thriving, but they are incomplete without the fourth element of the Third Metric: Giving.”

I believe that most of us intuitively understand the importance of giving, caring, empathy and compassion, because of our spirituality, religious practices, or simply by how we were raised, or the role models in our lives. I also believe that for some, giving is in their DNA. Now, with Social Entrepreneurship growing in popularity, it’s easier to integrate our desire to help others with our desire to be financially “well”. We even see this trend with the Millennials who lead the way in volunteering, with 43% of them engaged in service. And, universities have been on to this for quite some time, folding-in service learning and leadership into the fabric of college life. Here, at FIU, it is directly tied to our strategy, to the experience we want our students to have, and to the impact we want them to make in our communities once they graduate. Even companies and innovative start-ups are realizing that by providing their employees with the opportunity to serve others and be impactful in ways they decide helps them to stay engaged in their work and even increase their productivity and longevity with the company. Here are some numbers to back this up, based on a 2013 study by UnitedHealth group about employees who volunteered:

  • More than 75% of the employees said they felt healthier.

  • More than 90% said volunteering had put them in a better mood.

  • More than 75% reported experiencing less stress.

  • More than 95% said that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life (which, in turn, has been found to strengthen immune function!)

  • Employees who volunteered reported improved time-management skills and enhanced ability to connect with peers.

Regardless of the trends and stats, however, do we truly understand the capacity to which giving not only helps others and the world we are connected to, but the capacity to which it CHANGES US? Again, intrinsically I feel we do, but where’s the proof that Giving is the Miracle Drug? If you’re like me, you’ll get emotional, and even shed a tear or two when you see people doing good. I just can’t help it! Have you seen the Pay It Forward commercials by Liberty Mutual? I just love them! You can view one of them here. This is the intrinsic stuff I’m talking about. You watch this commercial and you immediately feel better, and perhaps you want to go out and pay it forward.

How do we pay it forward more often, and how is paying it forward directly linked to our wellness? Here’s some MORE good info Arianna shares in Thrive:

  • One study demonstrated that volunteering at least once a week yields improvements to well-being tantamount to your salary increasing from $20k to $75k.

  • A Harvard Business School study showed that “donating to charity has a similar relationship to subjective well-being as a doubling of household income.”

  • A study by scientists from the University of North Carolina and UCLA found that participants whose happiness was mostly hedonic (i.e., focused on self-gratification) had high levels of biological markers that promote inflammation, which is linked to diabetes, cancer, and other conditions. Those whose happiness included service to others had health profiles showing reduced levels of these markers.

  • A 2013 study led by Dr. Suzanne Richards of the University of Exeter Medical School found that volunteering was connected to lower rates of depression, higher reports of well-being, and a significant reduction in mortality risk.

  • In Give and Take, by Wharton Professor Adam Grant, “Those who give of their time and effort to others end up achieving more success than those who don’t.”

Pretty interesting, yes? We can read all the studies in the world and believe in their results, but at the end of the day, we must pay attention to what we feel and what we know. For me, I have no doubt that these links are true, based on my own experiences of philanthropy and compassionate actions. In fact, in my courses and coaching about Energy Leadership, we look at the benefits of shifting our thoughts and actions from Level 2 (conflict and competition) to Level 4 (compassion and others focus) and what that does for our energy, whole-life well-being, and how we lead others. What’s your experience?

Now let’s look briefly at how focusing on our well-being can increase our capacity to be giving and compassionate!

  • A 2013 study by researches from Harvard University, Northeastern University, and Massachusetts General Hospital found that “meditation enhances compassionate responding,” providing “scientific credence to ancient Buddhist teachings that meditation increases spontaneous compassionate behavior.”

  • Oxytocin, known as the “love hormone”, when released can promotes empathy and giving. It increases the compassion toward one’s family and the groups one identifies with. Oxytocin is in a constant battle with cortisol, the “stress hormone”, which increases in our bodies when we are exhibiting behaviors related to: judgment, fierce/negative competition, stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, fatigue, etc.

Small shifts in our well-being, then, as we have been promoting these last few weeks during our Summer of Well-Being, can help us lead more compassionate and caring lives, which clearly boomerangs right back to us with a greater sense of wellness. It’s a full circle!

I agree with Arianna that compassionate behavior is something that can be cultivated through certain wellness practices–not only for ourselves, but for our children–how we educate them and teach them how to feel better and solve problems.

So how do we learn to give each day? To live outside ourselves and not what’s important only to us? How do we find opportunities to give and to tap into the amazing healing power that it has?

I like this view, by John Burroughs,

“The great opportunity is where you are. Do not despise your own place and hour. Every place is under the stars, everyplace is the center of the world.”

Yes, the opportunity to give and to care is always right where we are. As in the commercial I shared above, small gestures go just as far for others and for us as do the large, intricate ones.

How will you pay it forward today? I’d love to hear your thoughts around Giving as the Miracle Drug. Chime in below.

It’s your life. Lead it well!

Namaste,

Monique

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