Blog  The Neuroscience of Generosity

The Neuroscience of Generosity

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by Arnie Rotenberg, faculty

In recent years, neuroscientists have discovered that feelings of generosity activate our neo-cortex, the front of the brain with our ‘higher thinking’ and more recently evolved capabilities. Therefore, feelings of being generous are done by choice.

Nedivut, generosity, has been this week’s theme at Crane Lake Camp. More than simply teaching campers about different ways to show generosity, kids were engaged in different ways of showing and demonstrating generosity.

In the Torah, those with this quality are described by having a “nadiv lev,” being “generous of heart,” an active quality. Generosity is more than just “giving up.” Generosity generates its power from the gesture of letting go. Being able to give to others shows us our ability to let go of attachments that otherwise can limit our beliefs and our experiences. It might be in our nature to think, “That object is mine for X, Y or Z reason.” But that thought can simply dissolve. This doesn’t just happen passively; we choose to let it through the cultivation of generosity. It is in that choice to dissolve that we carry ourselves to a state of greater freedom.

Upper Chaverim wrote a song this week with Noam Katz titled “Generosity” (check out the chorus as a teaser in this video) which sums up what was learned:

Lending your hand

When you’re stuck in the sand

Doing your part

What feels right in your heart

Helping a friend

When their path starts to bend

Open the door

When you know you more to give… that’s generosity.

Through many different acts, I watched campers learn not to put a cap on generosity and say, “I will give this much and no more,” or “I will give this article or object if I am appreciated enough for this act of giving.” But it is through the simple act of generosity that they have learned to see through the attachments and create space for themselves.

I have enjoyed watching kids practice the act of generosity. They have learned that we can find greater spaciousness in our minds and tap into a greater sense of inner happiness and make the world a better place.

Arnie Rotenberg is the Director of Congregational Jewish Living at Congregation Gates of Heaven in Schenectady, NY, where he has served for 3 years. He has been in Jewish education for for over 40 years as a teacher and administrator and is excited to be spending his second summer on faculty at Crane Lake!