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Paying It Forward For A Happier You

December 11, 2018 Silvia Damiano

Showing compassion and kindness to others may have an additional side effect--psychological benefits for the giver. Most people brighten up with a kind word or a cheery smile, and neuroscience is now focusing on the benefits to people who show kindness and generosity. Leadership methods that incorporate this science can help produce happier, more authentic leaders.


Have you ever gone to your favorite coffee shop and found that someone “paid it forward”, meaning that your order was paid for? If you have experienced this gift, you probably felt a little flabbergasted, surprised, and your day likely seemed brighter. If you haven’t experienced it, maybe you can start a trend!

These “pay it forward” chains have been around for a while. A notable chain at a Starbucks in the United States went uninterrupted for eleven hours, extending to 378 customers.1 In South China, Starbucks stores had over 19,170 people pay forward orders to the next customer to continue what many dubbed “the chain of kindness”.2


Scientists have long understood that being generous boosts well-being, but now scientists hope to determine how generosity affects the brain. In a recent study, researchers tested different types of generosity, so test subjects were “playing” to benefit someone they knew in need, a charity, or themselves.

A surprising result was found. Targeted generosity (giving when you know the person needs it) decreased activity in the amygdala. The amygdala is part of the limbic system that processes emotions and controls our fight-or-flight response. Individuals with elevated activity in this part of the brain may experience anxiety, phobias, and PTSD, so decreased levels could help alleviate associated symptoms.3

Every sunrise is an invitation for us to arise and brighten someone’s day.

Richelle E. Goodrich



Your limbic brain isn’t concerned about collaborating with others--it wants YOU to survive. While self-preservation can be good (especially when our ancestors had to avoid carnivores to survive), we are stronger as a whole than as an individual. While many of us can be generous when we have an audience, can you honestly say you give when no one might ever know? Leaders who want to not only survive, but thrive, should work towards a more collaborative society, where thoughts and ideas are valued and considered. The world needs people who make a difference, big or small, in the lives of those around them.4


Small children are usually expected to share (even if they don’t want to!). But, somehow, when we grow up, we tend to hold tightly to our “stuff” and we can be reluctant to give it up--whether it’s a material possession, or money, or time. To extend your generous spirit at work and in your personal life, consider three tips:

  1. Help someone out. When you see someone struggling to lift a box or hear a cry to hold the lift, help out. If you know a person is swamped and their child has a recital, ask if they need help. As the leader, it means a lot to the people around you when you generously offer some of your time.  
  2. Pay for someone’s lunch or coffee--or bring it to the office. A surprise taco bar for lunch can cheer anyone’s spirits. Or bring in goodies for coffee and hot cocoa that you don’t normally have in the office, like holiday-flavoured creams, sprinkles, or syrups.   
  3. Smile and say hello. Sometimes, we all need a smile, a little tiny symbol that brightens the day. Smiling and saying hello requires virtually no effort, and it can mean everything to someone who is struggling. Generosity doesn’t always involve money, and lifting someone in need with a simple smile or offering to listen is priceless.  

Generosity is needed to inspire people to work with us when they don’t necessarily have to. Showing generosity to others, and “paying it forward” can create a happier, healthier version of yourself.

Expand your Generosity  Ever wondered how you can display more generosity in your life? New advances  from different scientific fields are helping us better understand how our  brains and bodies function and the incredible impact they have on the way we  lead.  Learn how our i4 Neuroleader Program can help develop your personal leadership. Download Program Guide

1. Mazza E. Starbucks ‘Pay It Forward’ Streak Lasts 11 Hours In Florida. Huffington Post. 2014. Available at: > . Biolcati, R.; Mancini, G.; Pupi, V.; Mugheddu, V. Facebook Addiction: Onset Predictors.J. Clin. Med. 2018, 7, 118.
2. Starbucks Newsroom. More than 19,000 Customers ‘Pay it Forward’ in Starbucks South China Stores. 2014. Available at:
3. Inagaki TK, Ross LP. Neural Correlates of Giving Social Support: Differences between Giving Targeted versus Untargeted Support. Psychosomatic Medicine. 2018;Published ahead of print. Available at:
4. Damiano S, Cubeiro JC, de Haas T. Leadership is Upside Down: The i4 Neuroleader Revolution. About my Brain Institute. 2014.

Silvia Damiano

Silvia Damiano

Scientist, educator, author, speaker, coach, award-winning leadership specialist and filmmaker. Silvia is the Founder & CEO of the About my Brain Institute, creator of the i4 Neuroleader Model & Methodology, author of ‘Leadership is Upside Down’ and director of the 2018 documentary ‘Make Me A Leader’.

Silvia is passionate about leaving a legacy of well-rounded leaders who can act and decide in a way that better serves humanity. Her clients include Microsoft, Australian Stock Exchange, NSW Government, VISA, Fuji Xerox and Manpower amongst many other global companies.

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