The holiday season is full of opportunities to spread joy and do good in the world. Did you know that giving—whether helping someone, volunteering, making a charitable contribution, or giving a gift—is good for your mental and physical well-being? Let’s look at the science behind generosity and why giving is good for your health.
Many Reasons to Give Generously
From the times you’ve helped a friend or neighbor, you likely know that giving feels good. Interestingly, research suggests that giving results in more than just a good feeling. It positively impacts our health. In fact, caring for others helps your health so much it made our list of the five lifestyle choices you can make to prevent diseases and be well.
When you do kind things for others, your brain secretes “feel-good” neurotransmitters, including serotonin (which helps with your mood), dopamine (which we experience as pleasure), and oxytocin (which promotes inner peace). We then experience numerous mental and physical benefits as a result.
How Is Giving Good for My Health?
Helping someone else also helps you! Being generous has been found to:
- Lower your blood pressure—to a similar extent as eating a healthy diet and getting enough exercise!
- Live longer. People who volunteer are more likely to live long and happy lives.
- Reduce stress. In addition to increasing levels of serotonin, dopamine, and oxytocin, giving gifts or helping others can reduce your cortisol level, making you feel more calm and less stressed.
- Cause a “helper’s high,” as a result of the endorphins being released. This improves your self-esteem, increases happiness, and decreases depressed feelings.
- Promote social connection and community. A study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science demonstrated that when we give to others, they are more likely to give to someone else in return. This contagious spirit helps create communities who care for each other, which is central to good mental and physical health.
How to Give Back When You’re on a Budget
Serving others does not have to cost much—or any—money. You still receive the same health benefits from acts of care when you don’t spend any money. Consider engaging in acts of kindness, such as walking a neighbor’s dog, doing someone’s chores, or smiling at everyone on the street.
Create a Giving Tradition
A study in 2018 by Fidelity Charitable found that children who are raised in families with strong giving traditions and who are communicative about the value of giving back are more likely to give charitably as adults, be happy, and have closer relationships with their immediate and extended families.
If you don’t have a giving tradition in your family yet, this might be the year to start! Involve everyone by volunteering as a family on a service project or for a particular shared interest, such as walking dogs at your local animal shelter or making a care package for community members who have less than they need. Also be sure to talk about the importance of generosity, empathy, and respect for others with your children. This legacy of giving you’re creating will benefit your own family and your whole community for years to come.