We all have the instinct to survive. But God or Darwin, whichever one you believe, also made the actions that we need to survive pleasurable by having them stimulate the release of certain pleasure chemicals in our brains.
Take sex. The act is pleasurable not only physically, but mentally as well. It makes us feel good because reproducing is essential to our survival. Running releases endorphins, which give you that “runner’s high.” It was important for our ancestors to like to run. They had to run to get away from predators.
And we’ve just recently found out that overeating causes that pleasurable, contented feeling because those who didn’t pack enough fat away to survive the winter, just didn’t live very long. Some people even have a “fat gene” to make sure that they do that. That’s why some people put on weight easier than others.
Religion stimulates the brain to release these chemicals as well. This increased our chances of survival because it established a communal purpose and a leader or shaman to run things and lead the group, thus increasing the chances of survival.
The latest item to come down the pleasure for survival circuit is volunteering. It’s just been found that volunteering also releases those very same pleasure chemicals that the other activities do. It gives you a warm and contented feeling to help out others in need.
According to the St. Louis Post Dispatch: “Americans, especially older Americans, are finding that volunteering can improve their health. New research is finding that “in some ways, volunteering is more positive for people who are serving, than the people who need help,” said Dorcas McLaughlin, associate professor of psychiatric mental health nursing at St. Louis University.”
Volunteering your time and money must pay you back in some way because you don’t get paid for it. Actually volunteering may be better for your health that the person you are trying to assist. Volunteering creates a heightened sense of well-being and reduces stress.
I volunteered with the American Red Cross for a couple of years. And after a shift as the third person on an ambulance, I always felt satisfied when I went home, much more than when I finished a shift at work.
Volunteering to help others causes the brain to secrete a chemical that makes you feel like you have accomplished something. But how is this important for survival? In the past if you helped someone who was sick or wounded, then they would be more likely to help you if you ended up in the same situation. In other words, it increased your chances of surviving.