During the holiday season, more people are inspired to give. This doesn’t just mean shopping or donating money to charitable organizations—giving can include volunteering, or participating in social campaigns. Research suggests that there are both physical and mental health benefits for those who give, which may create some additional incentives to get you in the holiday spirit.
Here are five top ways giving is good for you.
According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, when people give to charities it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust. Gift-giving behavior causes humans to release “feel-good” chemicals in the brain, such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin that create a “warm glow” effect. This behavior also releases endorphins which produce the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”
Lower Blood Pressure
A study in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that participants who gave social support to friends and family had lower overall blood pressure than those who didn’t. Researchers also found that people who help others through community and organizational involvement had greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels. Additionally, volunteering can increase the physical activity of those who otherwise aren’t very active, which improves cardiovascular health and reduces stress levels.
Stress and high blood pressure are associated with a variety of health problems, so reducing these through giving behavior can actually increase one’s life expectancy. In fact, a study by the University of California, Berkeley, found that people who were 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn’t volunteer–even accounting for other factors such as age, exercise, general health and negative habits like smoking.
Several studies suggest that when you give to others, you’re likely to be rewarded by others down the line. These exchanges create a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthen our relationships; we feel closer to others and they feel closer to us–and having positive social interactions is essential to good mental and physical health.
Whether you’re giving a gift or receiving one, it can elicit feelings of gratitude. Research has found that gratitude is important to happiness, health and social bonds. Recognizing and expressing gratitude boosts positivity and can cause individuals to exercise more, be more optimistic and feel better about their lives overall.
Get out and do something nice for someone during this season of giving. Not only will it add some cheer to their holidays, but you may be surprised by the benefits you reap in return. A little giving could jumpstart a ripple effect of generosity through your community and leave you feeling happier and healthier than ever.