How giving makes us feel good: a psychotherapist explains

No one does anything for nothing’ someone said to me recently. ‘That's simply not true’ I thought.

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People do things for nothing all the time, through unselfish concern for others. Everyday life is filled with small altruistic actions, from holding the door open for someone else to giving change to a homeless man.

There are much larger acts of altruism as well, like the case of an elderly grandmother who threw herself in front of a car to protect her three tiny granddaughters from a vehicle that was careering out of control towards them.

And what about the man who jumped into an icy river to rescue a drowning dog, the generous donor who gives thousands of pounds to charity or the woman who donated a kidney to a total stranger ?


The subject of altruism has been close to my heart of late.

Sometimes your personal life and professional life overlap in spectacular fashion, like a strange Venn diagram, where the middle ground feels exciting yet a bit anxious too. Recently I have found myself at the heart of a campaign to try and save our village pub from being turned into another project for developers.

The Queens Head has served our community for the best part of 300 years. It's been the hub of the village as long as I can remember and certainly since I moved next door to it over 32 years ago.

These days, I have a special kind of bond with the old place but we got off to a rocky start when I first moved in. Beset by postnatal depression I focused all my negative feelings onto The Queens Head. It was something I wrote about in an article published by Tiny Buddha. In fact, I often wished the pub wasn't there at all.

So when it was put on the market recently, I was surprised that the surge of emotion I felt which fuelled an intense motivation to try and save the pub, not necessarily for me who goes to it less frequently than many, but for the benefit of the community as a whole.

In my work as a psychotherapist, I understand the significance of community; that sense of belonging that comes from connecting with something bigger than yourself. Others are obviously feeling it too, because once the ‘for sale’ sign went up, the residents of our tiny hamlet pooled their resources and managed to stump up £150,000 to try and buy it. The brewery turned us down, which is when we started to look more closely at a growing social phenomenon called ‘crowd funding.

A dying village

Like many rural communities, Tebworth has lost so much.

Fifty years ago, Anglia TV made a programme called ‘A Dying Village’ about a community losing its resources and traditional lifestyle. That documentary was about Tebworth. Yet since it was made, we have lost so much more, like our post office, shop and our little school. Never the less, community spirit stayed strong, largely because the pub is the hub of the village where friends and neighbours can get together.

And the pub itself has been a focus for altruistic giving for a long time, from raising money to help run it through beer festivals at the village hall, collecting for the annual fireworks display and bringing food to share with others at the folk night, when the musicians play for nothing as well.

In fact, we are surrounded by the constant little acts of generosity that say so much about what it is to be human and that give a real sense of belonging; something the psychologists call ‘pro social behaviour.’

Wired for generosity

There’s no doubt that altruism lights up the reward centres of the brain, giving substance to those well known sayings, ‘it’s better to give than to receive’ and ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country’ and one I regularly use with my own clients ‘While you are waiting for the depression to lift, what can you be doing to help others?’

As a professional, I know that giving, sharing and getting involved improve emotional health and wellbeing.

As it turns out, altruism provides its own reward.

Frances A Masters

Psychotherapist, Coach, Writer. Live your best life.

Do you want to be happier and more resilient? Some people seem to just 'bounce back' no matter what life throws at them. We can't choose many of life's events but we certainly do have a choice about how we respond. My passion for mental health began 25 years ago when I suffered postnatal depression and realised the help I needed simply wasn't there. The pills didn't work. In fact they made things worse. What I really needed was to understand how anxiety, depression and emotional ill health can develop. I needed to learn good 'mind management' skills which would act like a 'psychological inoculation' against future problems. When I recovered, I made a decision to find out how and why I had become so depressed and made a personal pledge to do something to provide the kind of help for others which I had needed. I wanted to prevent people suffering unnecessarily. So I embarked on a personal and professional journey and, along the way, developed a brand new approach to health and well-being. My journey began with four years of traditional counselling training, followed by a postgraduate diploma in psychotherapy. I studied cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) neuro-linguistic programming (NLP), hypnotherapy, coaching and cognitive neuroscience. I built up 30,000 hours professional experience which I brought together into the new happiness and resilience programme l named 'Fusion.' I also wrote a book about how to resolve post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), founded a therapeutic coaching charity and trained volunteers to work in this new way. This training programme would later become the nationally accredited Fusion Therapeutic Coaching Diploma and Distance Learning Skills Certificate. Now... The journey continues. Now I want to reveal all my professional secrets about good mind management to as many people as possible through social media and by training Fusion Breakthrough trainers from all over the world. One of them could be you... Something new.. Something different.. Something which lasts.. What if you could experience one day which could actually change your life for good; giving you your own eureka moment; not only helping you create a vision of the life you want to live, but actually give you the real skills to get there and stay there? Fusion is a tried and tested system which combines the best of psychotherapy and coaching into a powerful new formula for lasting change. My aim is to help and empower as many people as possible to feel their best, be their best and live their best lives. Perhaps I could help you too....


Go to the profile of Diane Priestley
over 4 years ago
Thanks for this insightful article Frances. I agree that altruism is immensely rewarding.
Last week I gave a gift of a beautiful Azalea bush to my neighbour whose mother passed away. At the check-out, when explaining why I was buying the plant, I heard myself apologising for my small act of kindness: "Oh well it makes me feel good!" anticipating the cynical judgement many people make about 'Do-Gooders'.
Although giving does make me feel full of love and joy, getting an inner glow is not my motivation! Most people like me who give freely, do so because they see a need and, feeling connected with other human beings, naturally give to make the other person feel better. True altruism is an unselfish act. The pleasure the giver experiences is a bonus.