Guest Opinions

Guest Opinion: Are you getting the ‘Helper’s High’?

The people of Idaho are among the most generous in the nation and, according to the latest research on charitable giving, they likely are among the happiest.

Maybe even euphoric. Let me explain.

According to The Chronicle of Philanthropy, a leading periodical covering the nonprofit sector, Idaho saw a 50 percent increase in giving in 2012 compared to 2006. That percentage increase of adjusted gross income was the second highest in the nation.

So what does this mean for Idaho residents?

•  The percentage of children living in single parent households below the poverty line is 28, second lowest in the nation, according to the Anne E. Casey Foundation, a Baltimore-based organization that studies and funds children’s services. The average in the U.S. is 35 percent.

•  Idaho ranks 18th in percentage of mortgage loans in foreclosure at 1.3 percent, as compared to the worst, New Jersey at 8.1 percent, as reported by the Corporation for Enterprise Development (CFED), a Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit.

•  The Idaho Foodbank last year distributed nearly 15 million pounds of food to people through more than 200 community partners and with nearly 50,000 volunteers. Average recipients totaled 131,000 every month.

“Nonprofits touch Idahoans in each community,” says Janice Fulkerson, executive director of the Idaho Nonprofit Center. “Regardless of social status and personal resources — if you a hike a trail, attend a church, mosque, or synagogue, go to libraries, participate in after-school programs, access health care or receive help with essentials like food, shelter or clothing — we are all touched. Nonprofits’ staff, board members and volunteers prove that working together we’re stronger.”

Interestingly, recent studies indicate that giving to help others is not only honorable, it’s physically pleasurable. Researchers at the Rehabilitation Institute of Chicago discovered that our brains are wired to neurologically reward us with happiness and excitement.

“The (brain) scans revealed that when people made the decision to donate to what they felt was a worthy organization, parts of the midbrain lit up — the same region that controls cravings for food and sex,” says Elizabeth Svoboda, author of “What Males a Hero? The Surprising Science of Selflessness.” “The finding suggests that altruism and social relationships are intimately connected — in part, it may be our reliance on the benefits of strong interpersonal connections that motivates us to behave unselfishly.”

And the pleasure is related not just to financial donations. Those who donate their time also feel good and appear to be healthier than those who do not.

Svoboda refers to the feeling as “helper’s high.”

“Volunteers testified that inner warmth and a pronounced energy spike were characteristic qualities of this high. ... People who helped others every week on a personal basis were 10 times more likely to report good health than those who volunteered only once a year.”

As we all recognize, there always will be needs among those left behind, cast aside or simply adrift. Consider:

•  Nearly one-third (29 percent) of all jobs in Idaho are in occupations with median annual pay below 100 percent of the poverty threshold for a family of four ($23,283), according to CFED.

•  About 8 percent of teens ages 16 to 19 are not attending school and are not working, the same as the national average. The lowest is Nebraska at 3 percent; highest is Louisiana with 12 percent, according to the Casey Foundation.

The health of our communities is not graded by the presence or absence of need; it is graded by the level of our response to that need. Do we care for our neighbors?

It is evident that the people of Idaho do.

Many of the state’s 1.6 million people give generously of their time, talent and treasure to address the needs of the less fortunate of the state’s residents. With over 5,000 social service organizations working alongside the for-profit and government sectors, Idaho is a better place because of its residents. The state has 50,000 nonprofit employees, and 425,000 volunteers, and countless generous donors, many of whom, as the science indicates, are on the road to happiness.

Are you one of them?

Atul Tandon is founder and CEO of the Tandon Institute, which equips social sector organizations with strategies, solutions and staffing to grow their impact, revenues, public awareness and leadership effectiveness rapidly. He will be a keynote speaker at the annual conference of the Idaho Nonprofit Center, Sept. 15-16, in Boise. Contact him at atandon