Can Donating To Charity Help Your Brain? with Kelli Davis

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

In her work with The Children’s Miracle Network, Kelli Davis brushes shoulders with high-profile celebrities on a regular basis. These interactions have resulted in some surprising lessons about what makes people truly happy. In this episode of the podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen, Tana Amen, and Kelli describe what egoistic altruism is, and Kelli tells a heartwarming story of what happened when a famous superhero actor visited a children’s hospital.

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Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
Dr. Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years using tools like brain SPECT imaging to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit
Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by Brain MD where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to
Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We're talking to Kelli Davis from The Children's Miracle Network. This is your brain on giving, and we've talked a little bit about purpose and how important that is. I know you work with many celebrities, as do we. It's an interesting endeavor and we love them all, but celebrity all by itself is actually bad for the brain. It wears out your pleasure centers. In my book Feel Better Fast, Make It Last, I talk about the pleasure centers in the brain area called the basal ganglia that produce dopamine, and dopamine helps you feel happy, driven, motivated. But fame, getting people screaming your name, being talked about, whether good or bad, it wears out your pleasure centers and one of my prayers for my young celebrities is dear God, please don't let me be famous before my brain is developed.
Tana Amen: Yeah. You know, it's interesting. I love what you said in the last episode, Kelly, when you said the small things are miracles. I mentioned that I went through really severe depression as well. When you come from a really dark place and you start to come out of it, I remember thinking, oh my gosh, the flowers are so bright. The sun, it feels so good, it's so beautiful. The small things were so amazing. When life gets really big and really busy, not even at a celebrity level, just at a busy work level and family level, you start to miss those things. You start to not notice those things anymore. So it's interesting, when you get bigger and bigger in that celebrity level, you begin to not see it. You need more and more for it to feel like a miracle. But I love what you said. If you step back and you just notice those small things, because I remember when those all felt super miraculous. And we can always do that if we stop and we just choose to notice it and be present. It's just a really powerful thing to do.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So talk about some of your work. I mean, my sense is if you're a celebrity and you get involved with causes you love, causes you believe in, that actually helps to mitigate some of the negativity that can go along with fame.
Kelli Davis: I work with hundreds of celebrities that want to use their platform to give back, because I think on the other side of fame, it's a horrible thing, as you mentioned. It's not healthy. So they want to really make sure that they are making a difference in this world. So I want to share an amazing story of the most special day that I had with Chris Pratt. Are you familiar with him?
Tana Amen: Mm-hmm (affirmative).
Dr. Daniel Amen: Yes.
Kelli Davis: From Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World. Well Chris, I had read that he'd saved his [inaudible 00:03:48] from Guardians of the Galaxy and if the movie did well, he wanted to surprise the kids at Children's Hospital Los Angeles. So I reached out to his publicist, we go to CHLA, and all the kids are in the child life playroom watching this movie, having no idea this superhero is going to come in. And he comes in with his costume, and these kids are in awe. They can't believe he's there. But the cool thing about Chris that day is when he walked in the hospital, he said, "Kelli, I need to get this on my calendar once a month," because that's who he is. It wasn't about, oh I'm just going to go do this and I'm going to get some media around it. He knew what it did for him, for his soul, but for these kids. He said, "I get way more out of it than these kids do."
So after that, we go around for two hours and do individual room visits. We visited a cute little kid who passes over 30 kidney stones a day who's in constant pain, and Chris just sat in his room, they quoted lines from the Lego Movie, and then Chris went to a little girl who had cancer. She couldn't come out of the room and he just put his hand up to the window and they just had this moment of being present together. It made a difference. It makes a difference. Those little tiny things that we do when we're thinking outside of ourselves matters. And so I'm so blessed to work with celebrities who care and who want to help save kids' lives. It's amazing.
Tana Amen: That's really special.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So the kids get the help, but Chris gets the healing.
Kelli Davis: That's good. But I think the kids get the healing too, and the parents get the healing, and the siblings get the healing, because they get to be removed from their situation in that point. And just be present.
Tana Amen: He was digging at me a little.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I'm not digging, I'm supporting you. It's one of the things we talk about a lot here, is when you help others, it really, and Hans Selye, who's probably the father of stress research in the world, he has a term called egoistic altruism. And it's like, well what does that mean? It means when you give, it comes back and helps make you a whole person.
Tana Amen: Well I came up with that when I didn't want to do a project at all. I was being a selfish brat at the time, actually. It was with a group of addicts, and I have because of my own personal story, I was being very judgmental about it. My childhood was very chaotic because of an uncle who was a heroin addict. So I didn't want to do it, and I just told Daniel, I broke down, I was like, "God picked the wrong person this time. I can't do this one." So he's like, "God picked the perfect person." Well I ended up doing this project for over two years. It was amazing, it was one of the most amazing projects I've ever worked with. These guys were incredible. The transformations were incredible. And so at the end, I realized I was praying about it and I'm like, oh, I get it, God. I was arguing with you, but really this was more for me than it was for them in a lot of ways. They got the help, I got the healing. So he likes to throw that at me now and then.
Dr. Daniel Amen: I think it's just a beautiful way to think about.
Tana Amen: Because he's always pushing me into these things that I'm not ready for. One has to wonder why I married a psychiatrist.
Kelli Davis: To be honest, I do love giving for the right reasons, but it really does help me deal with my personal struggles. I was raised in the Mormon faith, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and it's very big on families and purpose. It's all about family. Well I'm not married and I don't have children, and so I felt completely less than my whole life because I don't have kids. And so I was able to step into my purpose of these kids are my kids. I wanted four kids, God gave me over 100, and that's my why. It's why I get out of bed every day because these are my children, and how can I make sure I am serving them every day?
Tana Amen: That's very special.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Although I don't know if you know, there's actually new research that suggests women who do not have children are actually the happiest of all the groups.
Tana Amen: We're going to have to talk about that.
Dr. Daniel Amen: And it's interesting. Men who are married live longer than men who are not married, in large part because we have wives who harass us-
Tana Amen: Like me.
Dr. Daniel Amen: -to go to the doctor, to not go speak in Cancun.
Tana Amen: To not go some place during hurricane season, yeah, where the crime rate is out of control.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Women who are married do not live longer because they're with irritating guys like me.
Tana Amen: That want to go places that are dangerous.
Dr. Daniel Amen: Back to the Children's Miracle Network, and how do people get involved? So you have a podcast they can listen to, you have a website, obviously they could donate to the cause. What are ways everyday people can be supportive of the work you do?
Kelli Davis: Well, we are so blessed to have about 100 corporate partners who do fundraising campaigns for us throughout the year. So Walmart, on June 7th, is starting a six week campaign that will raise $60 million. So if you want to help CMN, just go to your Walmart and donate a dollar at the counter. You can do that at other corporate partners like Marriott, Delta, Walgreens, Rite Aid. But really, if you could just go to our website and donate $1,, $1 helps create miracles. It helps save kids' lives. It really does. This $7 billion was grassroots, a dollar at a time. It matters.
Dr. Daniel Amen: One of the most powerful things you can actually do is teach your children to donate as well. So to take, if they get $10 of allowance a week, to just encourage them to do a little bit of extra things and donate a dollar, because when you do that, you are teaching them to get outside of themselves and into other people. I don't know, well I know you know, that the incidents of teenage depression in girls has skyrocketed. 36% of teenage girls will have depression at some point during their adolescence. It's insane what's happening. And often, what social media does is it teaches us to focus on ourselves-
Tana Amen: And what we don't have.
Dr. Daniel Amen: -rather than being purposeful and helping other people.
Tana Amen: So we have a 15 year old that struggles with anxiety a lot. Like really struggles with anxiety. But we've taught her from an early age to be purposeful. So interesting, it was sort of a requirement to get involved with volunteer time. This is something that kids have to do now, so a lot of the kids picked the easiest thing they could do. They picked beach clean up, stuff like that, because it's just easy. But she's like, if I'm going to do this, I'm going to really do this. She got involved with a couple of organizations where she was actually doing something that was meaningful to her and giving back to young girls. And all of a sudden, I watched this transformation happen. It went from something that was a requirement to something she's doing double the hours she's required to do and she can't wait to do it again next year. She's like, "I'm not quitting." And all of a sudden, she's joined the mayor's youth council, she's now becoming interested in local politics, they offered her a job. It was crazy. This thing that started out as something she had to do, she realized was so powerful in her own life, that it just took root. And it was really a fascinating thing to watch for a teenager.
Dr. Daniel Amen: So when we come back, we're going to talk about more miracles, and the impact of miracles on your brain. Stay with us.
Tana Amen: If you're enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, please don't forget to subscribe so you'll always know when there's a new episode. And while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.
Dr. Daniel Amen: If you're interested in coming to Amen Clinics, use the code PODCAST10 to get a 10% discount on a full evaluation at For more information, give us a call at 855-978-1363.