We all know giving helps others, whether we volunteer for organizations, offer emotional support to those around us or donate to charities. But did you know that the warm and fuzzy feeling you get from helping others is actually good for you?
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From volunteering at a soup kitchen to committing to raise money for a specific charity – health benefits associated with giving can include:
- Lower blood pressure.
- Increased self-esteem.
- Less depression.
- Lower stress levels.
- Longer life.
- Greater happiness and satisfaction.
“I can recall giving my daughter a dollar to buy a gift for us during the holidays in elementary school,” recalls psychologist Scott Bea, PsyD. “When she returned home, she couldn’t wait to give us the gift she picked out. In fact, she insisted we open it immediately.”
There’s just something about the delight of gift-giving that makes us feel good, but there’s actually science backing it up.
Research says that people who give social support to others have lower blood pressure than people who don’t. Supportive interaction with others also helps people recover from coronary-related events.
Researchers also say that people who give their time to help others through community and organizational involvement have greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who don’t.
Giving can help you live longer
According to one study, 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 many other factors including age, exercise, general health and negative habits like smoking.
Another study found similar numbers of elderly people who gave help to friends, relatives and neighbors, or who gave emotional support to their spouses versus those who didn’t.
Biologically, giving can create a “warm glow,” activating regions in the brain associated with pleasure, connection with other people and trust. This is the reason why you feel excitement when you’re about to give a gift to someone else (and why you feel close to them during), or why you feel happy driving back from a volunteer experience.
There is evidence that, during gift-giving behaviors, humans secrete “feel good” chemicals in our brains, such as serotonin (a mood-mediating chemical), dopamine (a feel-good chemical) and oxytocin (a compassion and bonding chemical).
When you look at the functional MRIs of subjects who gave to various charities, scientists have found that giving stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, which is the reward center in the brain — releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the “helper’s high.”
And like other highs, this one is addictive, too. So go ahead and reach out to someone in need, decide what charities you’d like to give to and identify opportunities to give back in your community. Your mental and physical health will thank you – and so will the people you help.