Re-prescription Part I: GENEROSITY

Susan Comfort
5 min readMar 22, 2022

Time to revise the Personal Stress Prescription again, y’all.

We want to hear from you, the users of this discussion tool, on V.3.

To spark conversation, I penned three essays on Generosity, Intimacy, and Encanto. They’re not the Federalist Papers (I don’t write Non-stop), but each essay has:

  1. some research or science (Part III has Lin-Manuel lyrics as data)
  2. Susan’s story of how it ties into Nonprofit Wellness
  3. more to DO (or read) from here

tl;dr Helping others helps us. We were reluctant to include (any types of ) generosity on the Prescription. We need your help wording it now.

We see the Prescription as nourishing your “roots” so you can grow and flower.

The science is clear on generosity: Helping others helps us.

“When there was the threat of them being taken away, I knew it would be bad for my mental health,”… “The bins are the one thing that are keeping me from feeling completely useless.” Feb 26, 2022— Lara Kris Watson, my neighbor who hosts the Takoma Free Bins, which received a county inspection violation notice. Here’s the Washington Post article about the recent kerfuffle.

Lara Kris Watson at the “Purple Bins.” Photo by Sarah L. Voisin, curator of Takoma Park Free Art Library & photographer at The Washington Post.

About our social engagement system, psychologist Kelly McGonigal says, “You choose to help others, you activate this state. Caring for others triggers the biology of courage and creates hope.”

Our MPH interns from Milken Institute School of Public Health dove into this science. We found four types of generosity that are widely researched:

  1. random acts of kindness (spontaneous, often with strangers)
  2. scheduled volunteering (pre-determined shift of service);
  3. financial donations, any time of year, any amount — tithing, school donations or tax-deductible charity gifts (often as part of a community);
  4. community support, like making meals for a new parent, or shoveling snow for a senior (highly personal and relationship-driven).

Science tidbits on generosity:

  • The saliva of compassionate people contains more immunoglobulin A, an antibody that fights off infections.
  • Brain scans show links between generosity and a calmer disposition, better emotional health, and higher self-worth.
  • Generosity can lower blood pressure, increase self-esteem, lower depression, and lower stress levels.
  • Our brains create a “Helper’s High” cocktail of serotonin (a mood-mediating chemical), dopamine (a feel-good chemical) and oxytocin (a compassion and bonding chemical) when we are being/feeling generous.

Susan’s story and the Nonprofit Wellness link

WAiT, WuT? Why didn’t we put GENEROSITY on our Personal Stress Prescription, if we know it is such a great stress reliever?

It was, TBH, a defensive decision back in 2018.

Because in nonprofits and schools, we are too generous already!

I have a bit of a martyr complex and felt like most nonprofiteers are giving too much at the office. I wrote a piece here, in 2020, about the pee-pee dance.

Here’s our V.2 Personal Stress Prescription: Gratitude, #2! Generosity, nope.

V.2 added crafting, drums, intoxicants, etc…what should be added in V.3?

Many of these stress solutions have the effect of soothing us. That sparks the Safe & Social or Tend & Befriend (ventral vagal parasympathetic) mode of our nervous system (Vagal = Vagus nerve. See Part. II on Intimacy).

Look at the list again. Many of these stress solutions, we need to increase. But to make time for them, we need to decrease other things. What will it be for you?

Ever heard these aphorisms?

“Hurt people hurt people.”

“People who give, live longer.”

“Helping others helps us.”

Nonprofits and schools tend to be staffed by folks with martyr complexes, (like me, and my mum) and/or who have high ACE scores. Nonprofit staff might be re-traumatizing themselves daily. School staff might be “giving” a little too much already.

So, do we really want to encourage burned out staff to keep being “generous”?

How about — we reframe generosity, to include ourselves.

These acts of “generosity” — which include random acts of kindness, financial contributions, and scheduled service — should applied TO OURSELVES. Yes, I said it.“Self-Care” For our own sakes, and also so we can continue supporting families, students, friends, and colleagues in our other waking hours (“Team-Care”).

We need to figure this out, quickly, because the compassion-fatigued health care and education systems are burned out and on the verge of collapse.

More to do & read, by yourself and with your team:

  • Download and fill out a Personal Stress Prescription, with an eye toward how to make more time for the exact activities that bring you joy (and what you are going decrease to make time for this joy). We have more than a dozen other original wellness tools for you to explore and discuss.
  • Figure out when “giving at the office” is too much: Is it a certain # of hours/day/week? Is it the level of trauma of those hours? Are women expected to “give” even more at the office or at home? What about parents’ needs? What about kiddos? Is your hard work accounted and paid for?
  • Generosity TO OTHERS isn’t always what nurturer-professionals need. It’s generosity to OURSELVES that matters more now. What kind of self-care do you need for bare-minimum functioning? And for optimal?
  • Maybe you need a new, different type of generosity? Try random acts of kindness or a different financial contribution, of whatever size, to boost your nervous system. Creativity master Seth Godin offers, “Simple hack: change things in your life to make things better for someone else. Generosity unlocks our passion.


Science says we should include “Generosity” on the Prescription, but how?

There are four separate types of generosity at Science beginning of this essay…what to include, should we footnote? What exact words to use?

You can send a private message to or comment here (at least give us a “Clap”) or follow/comment on Instagram @Nonprofitwellness.

More to read/hear on Generosity:

Kelly McGonigal, 2015 “The Upside of Stress: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It.” Also Dr. McGonigal’s 2013 TED talk, How To Make Stress Your Friend (also see below for a quote).

Cleveland Clinic. “Why Giving is Good for your Health” October 28, 2020

Adam Grant, Reb Rebele, Harvard Business Review, Beat Generosity Burnout: Selflessness at work leads to exhaustion — and often hurts the very people you want to help. Here’s how to share your time and expertise more effectively. January 23, 2017


Kelly McGonigal presents data from “Giving to Others and the Association Between Stress and Mortality.” This study found that spending time socializing and caring for others can also create stress-related resilience:

“The harmful effects of stress on health are not inevitable. How you think and how you act can transform your experience of stress. When you choose to view your stress response as helpful, you create the biology of courage. And when you choose to connect with others under stress, you can create resilience.”

“When you choose to view stress in this way, you’re not just getting better at stress, you’re actually making a pretty profound statement…You can trust yourself to handle life’s challenges. And you’re remembering you don’t have to face them alone.”



Susan Comfort

Co-founder of, manager of the DC/Balto/Pitt Alvéole teams, Tinkergarten leader, queer parent, bee promoter.