Jorge Moll, a neuroscientist working at the National Institutes of Health, was fascinated when he saw the results of a study he’d been conducted with fellow scientist Jordan Bratman. The Dr. Moll and his colleague scientists found that people actually feel good biologically when they do good for other people. In the study, the subjects were asked to give a sum of money to someone else, and their brain waves were evaluated. Even the people who thought they’d be happier if they kept the money experienced an activation of the pleasure center of the brain. This is the same section of the brain that begins to work during eating or sex.
While we’ve been taught to be charitable to others, and that it is better to give than to receive, we may not need to keep reinforcing this lesson in our psyches and in the minds of our children. It turns out that helping others is something we’re biologically wired to do, which is why many people experience a “helper’s high” or a rush of peaceful or content feelings when doing something that makes a positive difference in the life of someone else like what Dr. Moll discovered.
A prime example of this is the story of model Petra Nemcova studied by Dr. Moll. She was vacationing with her fiancé Dennis Atlee in 2004 when a tsunami ravaged the country, killing Atlee and leaving her with severe injuries. Doctors were shocked that she wasn’t paralyzed from the damage to her pelvis, and she experienced severe internal bleeding as well (Impressaocerta). After spending some time recovering in the hospital, she returned to her parent’s home in the Czech Republic to continue regaining her strength. Less than a year after the terrible tragedy she experience, Nemcova went back to Thailand to help the children of the area. She felt compelled to return to the place where she’d had the most traumatic experience of her life, because she knew the aid she could offer would help children who would otherwise be overlooked. This shows that there are even times when we will overlook tragedy for the greater good of meeting someone else’s needs.