Last week, a few HuffPost editors and I were treated to a visit by Bill Drayton and Mary Gordon. Bill Drayton is the founder of Ashoka and a longtime champion of social entrepreneurship, a term that he coined and that has now spread across the world. Mary Gordon is a former kindergarten teacher who founded Roots of Empathy, an organization dedicated to teaching emotional literacy and promoting empathy in children, and was also one of the first Ashoka fellows. Our visit started with talk of the newborn recently welcomed by one of our editors, Gregory Beyer, whereupon Mary presented him with a onesie with "Empathy Teacher" emblazoned on the front. But as Mary -- a great empathy teacher herself -- told us, it's a two-way street, and empathy is best nurtured by example. "Love grows brains," she told us. "We need to show children a picture of love as we raise them."
And giving not only nurtures empathy; it's an outgrowth of our innate capacity for empathy. It's also one of the key components of HuffPost's Third Metric initiative to redefine success beyond the first two metrics of money and power to include well-being, wisdom, and our ability to wonder and to give -- all of which are boosted when we give our time and effort to something other than ourselves.
Since Einstein, scientists have been trying to come up with the "theory of everything," which would explain our entire physical world by reconciling general relativity with quantum physics. In the study of our emotional world, there's no analogous theory of everything, but if there were, empathy and giving would be at the center of it. And modern science has overwhelmingly confirmed the wisdom of those early philosophers and religious traditions. Empathy, compassion and giving -- which is simply empathy and compassion in action -- are the building blocks of our being. With them we flourish; without them we perish.
In his book "The Happiness Hypothesis: Finding Modern Truth in Ancient Wisdom," Jonathan Haidt writes that "caring for others is often more beneficial than receiving help. We need to interact and intertwine with others; we need the give and take; we need to belong."
Science has broken down why this is. A crucial component, a molecule of compassion, is a hormone called "oxytocin," also known as the "love hormone," the "love drug," and the "moral molecule." And not without reason. It's released naturally in our bodies during experiences like childbirth, falling in love and sex. Higher levels of oxytocin are associated with heightened desire and ability to connect socially. Lower levels are associated with conditions like depression and autism.
Researchers have found that giving people oxytocin can lower their anxiety and mitigate shyness. A study by neuroscientist Paul Zak showed that a squirt of oxytocin to the nose increased the amount of money participants offered each other in an experiment. "The seven deadly sins are still deadly, because they separate us from other people," said Zak. "They are all about putting 'me' first and that is maladaptive for social creatures like us."
Yet the term "giving back" can be misleading. It implies that service and volunteering are important only in terms of what they do for the community or the recipient. But just as important is what they do for the giver or volunteer. And the science on this is as unambiguous as it is amazing. Essentially, giving back is a miracle drug (with no side effects) for health and well-being.
A 2013 study by Dr. Suzanne Richards of the University of Exeter Medical School found that volunteering was connected to lower rates of depression, high reports of well-being, and a significant reduction in mortality risk. And a 2005 Stanford study found that those who volunteer live longer than those who don't.
Back in the HuffPost office, during our empathy teach-in, Bill Drayton emphasized to us that empathy is increasingly becoming our primary resource for dealing with the exponential rate of change the world is going through. "The speed at which the future comes upon us -- faster and faster -- the kaleidoscope of constantly changing contexts," he told us, "requires the foundational skill of cognitive empathy."
And the best way to build that internal foundational skill is to reach outward. Compassion and giving don't have to include getting on a plane to build houses in a remote part of the world. It may simply involve helping people across town. And it doesn't just involve giving money. As Laura Arrillaga-Andreessen put it in her book "Giving 2.0," it may involve helping business professionals donate skills in areas such as strategic planning, management or marketing.
Technology has made it possible to be in a self-contained, disconnected bubble 24 hours a day, even while walking down the street. Our devices might seem like they're connecting us, but they're really disconnecting us from other people, without whom it's hard to activate our hard-wired need for empathy.
(Arianna Huffington is president and editor-in-chief of Huffington Post Media Group. Her email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.)