It’s hard to believe that it is already that time of year when the malls start to buzz with shoppers buying gifts and the courier trucks work overtime to deliver online orders so people can check things off their lists. I’m sure that we can all agree that the spirit of giving to others feels good, but did you know that there are actually many physical and mental health benefits associated with giving? Some have even suggested that the act of giving provides even more benefits than receiving. Several research studies suggest that small and large acts of giving and kindness boost our physical and mental health, including lowered blood pressure, increased self-esteem, decreased depression, lowered stress levels, longer life and greater happiness.
These health benefits don’t just accompany giving presents. A study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology indicated that people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than people who didn’t. It was also found that people who volunteered their time to others in the community experienced less loneliness, greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who didn’t. A University of California, Berkeley study even found that individuals who volunteered their time were 44% less likely to die over a 5-year period than those who didn’t volunteer.
Biologically, research has shown that the act of giving activates regions in the brain that are associated with pleasure, connection with other people, and trust. Some evidence shows that when we give gifts we secrete hormones associated with feeling good (i.e. serotonin – a mood-mediating chemical; dopamine – a feel-good chemical; and oxytocin – a compassion and bonding chemical). Researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that people who gave to charities stimulated the reward center in the brain (mesolimbic pathway). The endorphins that are released when we give to charities are known as “the helper’s high” and this high is addictive in the same way as other highs.
Keep these benefits in mind as you are standing in the eternal line at the mall to purchase that sweater for your sister or when you are circling the parking lot endlessly in front of the one store that carries the teapot that you know your Aunt would love. Remember that these frustrations will be trumped by the good feelings you have when you see the look on their faces. Find ways to be kind and charitable and provide others the same opportunity. Think of it this way, it would be selfish not let others be giving ;)
Happy Holidays from the Lift Psychology Team!