Sheryl WuDunn: Giving is Good For You

There are countless opportunities in this world for one to give of him- or herself. And doing so, says WuDunn, helps more than just the receiver, even if it's not immediately apparent.

Sheryl WuDunn has the sort of résumé that would impress even Leonardo Da Vinci. She's a Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, a successful businesswoman, and the co-author of three bestselling books. WuDunn's newest release, also her fourth collaboration with husband Nicholas D. Kristof, is called A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity. Its aim is to serve as a road map toward a future full of dedicated global citizens innovating more efficient methods for enacting positive change.


WuDunn recently visited Big Think to discuss some of the key themes of her book, the act of giving being one of the most important. There are countless ways and opportunities in this world for one to give of him- or herself. And doing so, says WuDunn, helps more than just the receiver, even if it's not immediately apparent:

"So we think that when we give we're losing something; we're giving some of our money, our time, our resources to someone else. It turns out when that neuroscientists who have studied altruism, they found some interesting results."

Research actually shows that the effect of altruism on a giver's brain is comparable to the stimulation one experiences when tasting sweets or falling in love. As it turns out, giving is good for you. WuDunn then rattles off multiple figures about how volunteering your time for multiple causes can decrease your mortality risk by as much as 44%. The big takeaway here is that if you're looking for a simple way to make yourself happy and healthy, you could do a lot worse than by simply giving your time, money, and energy to a good cause.

A Path Appears includes a list of organizations from which readers can choose to support, though WuDunn suggests personalizing your volunteership in order to highlight your particular skills. The only real warning she gives is that not every charity in the giving industry is ethical and/or efficient. You have to be wary of scams, you'll want to research just how much of a charity's contributed income ends up serving the cause.

Finally, WuDunn touches on one of the major societal goals moving forward identified in A Path Appears: fighting inequality. WuDunn and Kristof suggest an approach centered around education:

"And the most efficient way of doing that is by intervening early through early childhood education. We're talking about age one, two, three, even before the official public school system kicks in. Because your brain, the brain is forming much more rapidly during those early years in the first one thousand days. So if you can capture that window and milk it for what it is, you'll be far more effective in altering a life path, particularly if it's a child born to parents on welfare or impoverished parents."

Sheryl WuDunn, along with her husband Nicholas D. Kristof, is co-author of the new book A Path Appears: Transforming Lives, Creating Opportunity. WuDunn and Kristof were the first husband-wife duo to win a Pulitzer, for their coverage of the Tiananmen Square demonstrations in 1989.

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