By Gina Teeple
Director of Development & Ministry Relations
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, “It is more blessed to give than to receive.” ~ Acts 20:35 (ESV)
I sometimes find these words of Jesus difficult to understand. I certainly want to serve, please, and glorify God by loving my neighbor. But is it really better to give than to receive? If I am being honest, it is really, really nice to receive. Also, if we aren’t supposed to help people out of selfish ambition or conceit (Philippians 2:3-4), should it really be better to give than to receive?
Of course, the answer to those questions is an unequivocal “YES!” because Jesus’ word is truth. Recent research has shed some light on the psychological and biological reasons why this is true.
Helping Others Helps YOU
To understand how helping others helps you, it is important to first understand the neurochemical drivers of happiness in the brain. There are three that form the happiness trifecta: oxytocin, dopamine, and serotonin.
Oxytocin is known as the “cuddle hormone.” It not only helps us to feel closer to others, but it reduces social fears and increases trust. Additionally, oxytocin lowers blood pressure and cortisol. As an anti-inflammatory, it also reduces physical pain.
Dopamine is known as the “feel good hormone” because it acts on areas of the brain that give feelings of pleasure and satisfaction. As a neurotransmitter, dopamine is also involved in bodily functions such as movement, memory, motivation, cognition, sleep, and learning.
Serotonin plays a role in many bodily functions. In addition to regulating mood (something for which it is best-known!), it aids digestion, affects the quality of sleep, helps maintain the sleep-wake cycle, is released to help heal wounds, and impacts memory and learning.
Research has found that altruistic behaviors (helping others), increase oxytocin in the brain. That is why it feels good to do something good! And when our bodies have a surge in oxytocin and dopamine, serotonin levels also increase.
One study compared retirees older than 65 who volunteered with those who did not. Those who volunteered had fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety. They also scored higher in life satisfaction and had an increased will to live.
Simply put, helping others increases the production of these neurochemicals, which increases our health and well-being. It truly is better to give than to receive!
Whoever brings blessing will be enriched, and one who waters will himself be watered. Proverbs 11:25 (ESV)
HOW YOU CAN HELP
Research has shown the positive effects of helping others is not limited to certain altruistic behaviors. There are many ways you can help others! As you consider your options, remember small things can make a big difference.
When thinking about how to share your time and talents with others, consider the following:
» What do you feel passionate about?
» What opportunities are available in your area?
» What are you good at? Are there things you especially like to do?
Sometimes helping is as simple as opening a door for someone or asking about their day. We need to pay attention to those around us, or be present, to understand their needs and how we can help. Consider the following:
» Who has God placed in your life?
» What are their needs?
» What resources or abilities do you have that could help meet those needs?
» What are some ways you can “be present” from a distance (e.g. calling on the phone, sending a note or card)?
Support a Nonprofit
If you are not able to actively participate in something you feel passionate about, consider supporting a nonprofit organization already engaged in that work. In addition to monetary gifts, you can support the organization with your prayers or by sharing their work with others.
LOVING OUR NEIGHBOR
And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. Matthew 22:37-39 (NIV)
As Christians we are called to love one another—not just with our words or emotions, but with our actions (1 John 3:18). When we help others, we:
» Serve God. Paul writes in his letter to the Colossians, “Whatever you do, work heartily, as for the Lord and not for men, knowing that from the Lord you will receive the inheritance as your reward. You are serving the Lord Christ” (3:23-24, ESV).
» Please God. Hebrews 3:16 tells us, “Do not neglect to do good and to share what you have, for such sacrifices are pleasing to God.”
» Give glory to God. In the Gospel of Matthew Jesus says, “You are the light of the world. A city set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do people light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a stand, and it gives light to all in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (5:14-16, ESV).
Little children, let us not love in word or talk but in deed and in truth. 1 John 3:18