The Cellular Magic of Compassion
by Marlaina Donato
Dropping off a homemade treat on a neighbor’s porch or going out of our way for a stranger can make the recipient’s day, but the giver also gets a boost. Thanks to a scientifically proven cascade of feel-good chemicals like oxytocin, serotonin and dopamine, performing regular acts of kindness forges new neural pathways in the brain, amping up our cognitive ability while reducing symptoms of anxiety and depression.
The “helper’s high” is as real as the runner’s high and, according to sources cited by the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation, neurotransmitters stimulated by compassion have a stronger influence on health and longevity than exercise and other positive lifestyle factors.
Studies show that practicing kindness for just seven days increases happiness, but the magic is ephemeral. Oxytocin, the “love chemical” that bonds humans to each other, floods the bloodstream for only four minutes after a positive interaction, which means the more doors we hold for each other and the more we offer small soul-gifts to others, the more we train our brains to be happier and our bodies to be less sensitive to chronic pain patterns.
Of course, giving must be counterbalanced with a healthy ratio of receiving. Expressing compassion to ourselves is equally as important and effective. Including the self is paramount in purposeful generosity. Allowing ourselves the full range of human emotions without judgement, giving our bodies that much-needed extra hour of sleep, buying fresh flowers for our office and crediting ourselves for daily accomplishments are all easy ways to turn on endorphins.
The more joyful we can be in our own skins, the more likely we are to beam that joy out into the world. Being both giver and receiver to ourselves blesses us with an understanding of why expressing benevolence is vital to the planet. “The more you are motivated by love, the more fearless and free your action will be,” said the Dalai Lama, exemplifying how giving in itself is the greatest reward.
Marlaina Donato is an author, painter and host of multimedia art exhibits intended for healing the community. Connect at WildflowerLady.com.