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 of giving, which may create some additional incentives to get you in the holiday spirit.
Here are five top ways giving is good for you.
1. Greater Happiness
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.”
2. 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.
3. Longer Life
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. Studies have actually shown that increased volunteering is linked to lower mortality rates in older adults. One study from Psychology and Aging found that those in the study who volunteered had on average a 24% lower mortality risk than those who did not volunteer.
4. Social Connection
When you give to others and broaden your social circle through giving, it is also more likely you’ll receive support from 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. Regular volunteering can also provide opportunities to stay connected socially, especially for seniors.
5. Better mental health
Research has shown that people who spend time giving back have better mental health outcomes, including greater happiness and less distress. People who volunteered regularly, at least once per month, were more satisfied with their lives and rated their health higher. While it is true that happier people tend to spend more time volunteering, studies have shown that those with lower levels of wellbeing may experience an even bigger boost in happiness when they start volunteering.
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.