the power of giving

the power of giving

I recently finished up a year long series of psychology classes at Stanford University with Kelly McGonigal, a health psychologist and yoga instructor I have followed and admired for years. I was psyched (no pun intended) to study with Kelly because she has intelligently meshed two philosophies near and dear to my heart: science and mindfulness. I can’t believe the day has finally arrived that researchers are studying, in a scientific manner, the effects of meditation and mindfulness… and showing statistically significant results of how mindfulness WORKS! Over the course of this last year we delved deep into the science of mindfulness, the science of willpower and topped it off with the science of compassion. Each class left a lasting impression and got my brain churning… and pondering the question; “what, where, how do we foster optimal well-being?”


When the phenomenon of the “warm glow” was mentioned in class, my ears perked up. In a few days I’ll be taking off on a 7 day, 545-mile bicycle ride down the coast of California. The ride is a fundraiser that supports the SF AIDS Foundation and in return gives me the “warm glow”. Warm glow describes the positive emotional feeling people get from helping or giving to others. As someone who has been involved in non profits and charitable organizations since high school, at first I felt a bit ashamed of the “warm glow” effect, I have always considered myself a kind and selfless person participating in charity work out of desire to help rather than “feel good”. The reality is although we may not seek the “warm glow” in our efforts to help others for most people it’s an unexpected side effect of the work.


Our brains are hardwired for kindness and community, we are designed by nature to help others when in need, and work together to survive it’s like the old sang, “it takes a village to raise a child”. The children of our village manifest in many shapes and forms ranging from disease, hunger, homelessness, and more. When someone is in need a part of our being wants to help and when we do our brain fires off neurons in the region of our brain that corresponds to the rewards center – basically we feel good and are filled with a “warm glow”.


So during a time when the health of our nation is suffering and new and improved strategies are emerging for supporting well being maybe we can all benefit from a dose of the “warm glow” and give to someone or something in need.


Giving comes in many forms and finding the one that resonates with you is key in receiving the warm glow. For some it means donating money to a cause they believe in and want to progress, for others it’s physically helping a cause like building homes for habitat for humanity or providing service during devastation. If you are looking to push the limits then you may be drawn to the organizations that challenge your physical fitness in effort to bring awareness to a cause: Barbells for Boobs, Team In Training, Wounded Warrior Project and AIDS LifeCyle are just a few.


For me it’s a combination of the above, donating dollars to support organizations that are meaningful work, actively participating and interacting with people on the street that just want a simple smile and hello. And more recently participating in events like AIDS LifeCycle, where I push my body to it’s limits and what keeps me going is the greater mission to bring awareness to and end HIV/AIDS. At the end I receive an unexpected gift of the “warm glow” and I graciously accept it.


Whatever the cause may be, giving is an important stone that builds the path to well being.



What’s gives you the warm glow? Post to comments…







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Ritu Riyat is an applied yoga and mindfulness expert. She equips her clients with tools to reconnect with their bodies, eliminate stress, and make more informed decisions about their health and well being.

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