The power of giving is more powerful than you think.
Ever get that warm, glowing feeling when you do something nice for someone? Giving gifts and spreading cheer during the holiday season — or just dropping off a surprise cup of coffee at a busy coworker’s desk — feels good.
There’s good reason for that glow. Whether it’s the gift of time, talent or a monetary donation, research studies have shown that generosity has a positive impact on emotional and physical well-being, and not just for those on the receiving end.
The link between generosity and your health
Maybe you sent a birthday card to someone yesterday. You donated canned goods to your local food pantry last week. And you picked up groceries for a neighbor a month ago. All these acts of kindness really add up.
And doing them regularly could help you live a longer, healthier life.
“Research suggests that the act of giving can help us feel a sense of purpose, reduce our stress and depression levels and can even help us improve our self-esteem,” explains Lynne Gallagher, LCSW, clinical psychiatry specialist at Geisinger. “These emotional benefits then lead to positive impacts to our physical health.”
Here are 3 ways generosity can improve your health
You’ve likely felt the mood-boosting benefits of giving. “Studies have shown that giving can activate areas of the brain associated with pleasure and connection,” explains Ms. Gallagher. “This is why we feel excited and satisfied when giving a gift or when we find fulfillment in volunteering for a cause we’re passionate about.”
And it doesn’t stop there. Those who give reap some other positive health benefits, including:
- Lower blood pressure
Research has shown that people who volunteer or provide support to others have lower blood pressure than those who don’t. It’s also been shown to improve heart health.
“Volunteering provides opportunities for social interactions that some people may not have otherwise, especially seniors,” says Ms. Gallagher. “These positive social connections promote healthy aging and can reduce the risk for several health conditions.”
- Reduced stress and depression levels
Those who give regularly to others through volunteering or by being involved in their community improve their self-esteem and reduce their stress and depression levels.
“This is likely a result of the chemicals that are released in the brain when people partake in giving behaviors,” says Ms. Gallagher. “These chemicals include serotonin (the mood regulation chemical), dopamine (the ‘feel-good’ chemical) and oxytocin (the ‘cuddle’ or ‘love’ hormone).”
- Longer life
When we do good deeds, we reduce our stress levels and the negative effects prolonged stress can have on the body.
“When our body’s stress response is turned on for an extended period of time, our body is negatively affected,” says Ms. Gallagher. “This can lead to premature aging and increased risk for certain health conditions, such as high blood pressure, heart disease and diabetes.”
In fact, studies have shown that people who volunteer their time have a lower risk of death than those who don’t.
Ways to give back
Even if you’re low on funds or quarantining at home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, there are many ways to get involved and give back — this holiday season and beyond. Here are a few ideas:
- Reach out to a friend, neighbor, coworker or anyone who needs a little extra support right now — a phone call, text or video call can really make a difference.
- Offer to run errands for an elderly or high-risk neighbor who’s spending more time at home these days.
- Donate to a local organization. If you’re low on funds, donate canned goods and other non-perishable goods or clothing you no longer wear.
- Support local businesses. Help a local business by buying gift cards or ordering goods or food for delivery or pickup.
- Donate blood. Find a location near you and give the gift of life to help people and hospitals in need year-round.
- Practice small acts of kindness. A few ideas: Compliment a stranger. Pay for someone’s coffee in the drive-thru line. Feed an expired parking meter.
This holiday season (and all year), find small ways to give back and enjoy those health-boosting benefits for years to come!