The holidays are fast approaching and shopping can be terrifying. However, research suggests it’s worth it. There are studies that attest to the benefits of giving and not just for the recipients, but for the givers’ health and happiness, and for the strength of entire communities. Giving can actually boost your physical and mental health.
Of course, you don’t have to shop to reap the benefits of giving. Research suggests the same benefits come from donating to charities or volunteering your time. Whether you're volunteering at a soup kitchen, nursing home, or committing to raising money for a special charity; health benefits associated with giving can include:
Giving lowers blood pressure.
Research says that people who give social support to others have lower blood pressure than people who don’t. Supportive interaction with others also helps people recover from coronary-related events.
Giving increases self-esteem.
Researchers say that people who give their time to help others though community and organizational involvement have greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who don’t.
Giving promotes cooperation and social connection.
When you give, you’re more likely to get back. Several studies have suggested that when you give to others, your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line; sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else. These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our ties to others and research has shown that having positive social interactions is central to good mental and physical health. When we give to others, we don’t only make them feel closer to us; we also feel closer to them. Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably.
Giving evokes gratitude.
Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of a gift, that gift can elicit feelings of gratitude. It can be a way of expressing gratitude or instilling gratitude in the recipient. Research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds. Barbara Fredrickson, a pioneering happiness researcher, suggests that cultivating gratitude in everyday life is one of the keys to increasing personal happiness. When you express your gratitude in words or actions, you not only boost your own positivity but other people’s as well.
Giving can potentially give you a longer life.
A 1999 study led by the University of California, Berkeley, found that elderly people who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die over a five-year period than were non-volunteers, even after controlling for their age, exercise habits, general health, and negative health habits like smoking.
Giving gives you greater happiness and satisfaction in life.
Giving can create a warm glow activating regions in the brain associated with pleasure, connection with other people, and trust. This is the reason why you feel excitement when you’re about to give a gift to someone else or why you feel happy driving back from a volunteer experience. During gift-giving behaviors, humans secrete “feel good” chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin (a mood mediating chemical), dopamine (a feel-good chemical) and oxytocin (a compassion and bonding chemical).
Giving is contagious.
When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our community. When one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people. So whether you buy gifts, volunteer your time, or donate money to charity this holiday season, your giving is much more than just a year-end chore. It may help you build stronger social connections and even jumpstart a cascade of generosity through your community.
There’s just something about the delight of gift-giving that makes us feel good, but there’s actually science backing it up. Like other highs, this “helpers high” is additive too. So, go ahead and reach out to someone in need, decide what charities you’d’ like to give to and identify opportunities to give back in your community. Your mental and physical health will thank you and so will the people you help.