The Science of Giving

Few hours ago I was lying on a red cushion armchair, staring through a window, watching the buzz of a hospital wing behind the shinning Christmas stars decorations. Smelling the antiseptic desinfection brought memories of childhood, which may sound strange to those who are not children of doctors like me. Suddenly, images of children and human suffering, filled my mind, probably because I watched news from Aleppo and Syria before leaving my office.


In moments like these, sense of surreality comes over me, stemming from the contrast of my abundance and the inequalities in the world. Along with it usually comes loss of sense and purpose. I feel I should be elsewhere, doing something else, taking on the current world issues more directly, not through analyzing data in my PhD.

In moments like these I feel I should not be lying on a comfy airmchair, planning a blog post about the cozy Swedish Lucia celebration, which was my plan for today’s Researcher’s Advent Calendar.

bastajulgavan_nikasebBut today, it was easier to overcome the jarring contrast and  loss of sense and purpose. Afterall, I was lying on that red airmchair, with my blood slowly flowing into a plastic package. A package without ribbons or snazzy wrapping paper. Decorated only with medical tags, I was wrapping a present, maybe the best one I will give away this Christmas. I was lying there to donate my blood, part of my own body, to help someone I will never meet. It did feel good, which is probably where the hashtag of #bästajulgåvan (#bestxmasspresent) probably comes.

In that moment of giving, I got to reflect on generosity, which is a huge part of the Christmas atmosphere. We hectically run around our busy towns to find the perfect things for those who we love. As I walked out, I immediately started googling the “Science of giving”. Serotonin, brain changes, evolution of altruism, and many other terms popped up. Fascinated by the diversity zooned out for at least an hour. Some of the research is summarized in an op-ed article from last year. I encourage you to take a moment and give it a read or check out the Science of Generosity project.

bästajulgåvan_presenter.jpgOne of the books that I might add to my Christmas wish-list is titled: “The Paradox of Generosity: Giving We Receive, Grasping We Lose”. Starting at the amoung of things I received walking out of that blood donation bus, even after sending my main blood donation reward to the Doctors without Borders, I definitely related to it.

With end of a year often the re-thinking and reflecting usually comes. I have had moment like that today, maybe quite fitting on Lucia, a day when light in midst of darness is celebrated. I realized I might not be able to fix the war, but giving blood today was my bit of a light to conquer the worlds darkness. I totally don’t know where I am going in the next year. But at least I am clear on how I am going – forward and  with intent to give, to those I know and do not know. Not only during Christmas but in my everyday. I encourage you to do the same. Maybe you can start by donating blood too, there is always a need of new donors!


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