June 24, 2020 | Counselor's Corner by Lisa Blackwood
It’s hard to get an accurate read on the nation’s psychological state right now. Our national identity is in real-time. The human impulse, like almost every other dimension of human behavior, has been tested in the virtual realities that increasingly surround us. As our transactions and reality have increasingly shifted online, our brains have had to cope with more information, more distraction, and many more computations than ever before.
The natural human impulse to be generous continues as millions of people responding with acts of generosity, finding ways to bring food to elders, hosting virtual cocktail parties. People are checking in with each other. You hear of these 50-person family reunion Zoom calls.
We are experiencing a sort of deep, visceral attunement over the internet when we see another person’s face and hear the vocal tone. The internet is a huge variable in this pandemic. We have a profound new way to comfort one another. That warm feeling of wellbeing that washes over you when you have done something kind for another person isn’t just in your head. It’s in your brain chemicals, too.
Acts of generosity can release dopamine and endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria and oxytocin, which is associated with tranquility, serenity, or inner peace. These hormones contribute to your mood and overall wellbeing. Oxytocin is a natural chemical to defend against depression and anxiety. Oxytocin plays a role in forming social bonds and trusting other people. When people are generous, it activates the mesolimbic pathway region of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust by releasing dopamine, a chemical messenger in the brain that can give you a stimulus or feeling of euphoria.
In addition to boosting oxytocin and dopamine, being generous can also increase serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps regulate mood and increase levels of an endorphin-like chemical in the body called substance P, which can relieve pain.
By focusing on understanding generosity in our new virtual world, we are creating a new context that has never existed before. Not only can this lead to a potential breakthrough of how much we give, but it could also well make us happier. The rewards of generosity are many; it helps us feel better and helps those who receive. Thus, building better selves and better communities at the same time.
Lisa Blackwood MS MA LPC-S #19803 LCDC #4965 EMDR Certified