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    The Science and Art of Giving

    wsBy Brett Andrews

    With all that is going on in the world, it is heartening to see how our mood and behavior can change during this festive season of giving and gratitude—much like a swallow that instinctively knows to migrate during the winter. Unconsciously, we even seek to recreate this elated feeling all throughout the year.

    Have you ever paid attention to how you feel when you give a gift or do a good deed for someone? That warm, euphoric feeling is not just a feeling; there is hard science behind it. When we give or receive a gift—or volunteer—pleasure chemicals are released in the brain, making us feel enraptured and energetic. These chemicals also help the mind to stay calm and focused on tasks, and they further help us to resist depression and other mood disorders.

    While there is credible science to back this all up, there is so much more to giving, which helps us to lead healthy and productive lives. These intangible benefits are the result of what I call the art of giving.

    A couple of my earliest memories of experiencing the art of giving were sitting with my mother and watching her bake cakes and cookies throughout the holiday season. It brought my mom such joy to have neighbors stop by for a minute or more to pick up a tin of homemade goods. I also fondly remember a cabinet in the far corner of the kitchen called the “goody-goody” cupboard. I’m not exactly sure who named it, but if I had to guess, I would say that individual was me! When I would ask to have a cookie, my mother’s response was always, “Sweetheart, that’s what they’re there for—I made them for you.” Looking back, I’m not sure what made me feel so good: getting to have a cookie or hearing my mother’s response.  

    Indeed, I am grateful when I receive a gift. Accompanying my gratitude are also the heady and often fleeting thoughts like how much effort went into actually producing a gift. Maybe the person took time off from work, or maybe the gift was fashioned by their hands. I think, “How long have they been planning this? How did they know this is what I’ve been wanting or needing?” And while all of those questions have and deserve answers, what is most important is that I meant enough to someone to be a beneficiary of their generosity.

    Giving and receiving is one of the laws of Deepak Chopra’s Seven Spiritual Laws of Success. In the book, Chopra equates giving and receiving to the harmonious flow of energy. The precious currencies exchanged are the joy and appreciation that we feel for one another every time we engage in this way.

    I pen this knowing that the many benefits of giving and receiving are not groundbreaking, or earthshattering, information. I write this as a note of thanks to all of you for instinctively knowing when and how to do something for someone else just because. Your expression of kindness may have made all the difference. Thank you!

    Happy Holidays to you and yours.

    Brett Andrews is the Chief Executive Director of PRC (, which is the only place for people living with HIV/AIDS or mental health disabilities to get comprehensive benefits counseling and employment services in San Francisco. Andrews is a member of the San Francisco HIV/AIDS Provider Network, the San Francisco Human Services Network and the Mayor’s CBO Taskforce. He additionally serves on the Board of the National Working Positive Coalition.