The holidays remind us to give thanks for what we have, but also cast a sharp light on people in our communities who might not be able to afford food and shelter – much less spring for the season’s festivities and gifts. For many, this realization is all they need to donate gently used clothing, volunteer at a local food bank, or write checks to support worthy causes. These actions are truly selfless, but we discovered a happy secret: there’s something in it for you, too. Here are just some of the many benefits that come from helping others:
You’ll feel happier. Numerous studies have shown that charitable actions boost the giver’s positive mood. In one, researchers gave five dollars to one group of people and asked them to spend it on themselves. They then gave five dollars to a second group and asked them to use it on a gift for someone else or donate it to charity. Those who spent the money on others were measurably happier than people who treated themselves. This positive response is known as the “warm glow” effect or “helper’s high,” and it’s because the charitable actions trigger the regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust. In contrast, people tend to feel guilty and worse about themselves when they don’t donate in situations where they think they should.
You’ll be healthier. Elderly people that helped out friends, relatives, or neighbors, or gave emotional support to their spouses, had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than people who didn’t, according to a study from the University of Michigan. Giving may decrease stress and increase gratitude, which research has found to be vital to happiness, health, and social bonds. People who learn to cultivate gratitude may even exercise more often, feel more optimistic, and improve their outlook on life – all important health benefits considering today’s stressed-out lifestyle.
You’ll improve the world. That may seem like a bold statement, but there’s science to back it up. In a study, researchers found that one person’s generous act inspired observers to behave generously later. This altruistic behavior could keep spreading and ultimately affect hundreds of strangers for the better.
Do you plan to volunteer or donate to charities in your local community over the holidays? Let us know how – you might just inspire others to make a difference, too.
Photo courtesy of Jesslee Cuizon