We all know that giving helps others. You can make a big difference in this world of ours by offering time and support to friends and family, volunteering for organizations or donating to charities.
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But did you know that the warm and fuzzy feeling you get from helping others is actually good for you, too?
That’s not just some “good vibe” theory, either. There’s science behind it. Research shows that giving can boost your physical and mental health in numerous ways. Let’s find out more with psychologist Susan Albers, PsyD.
Health benefits of giving
A smile isn’t the only reaction that comes from gift-giving. There’s also a chemical response that takes place in your body in response to … well, just doing something nice.
As you help someone or give a gift, your brain secretes “feel good” chemicals such as:
- Serotonin (which regulates your mood).
- Dopamine (which gives you a sense of pleasure).
- Oxytocin (which creates a sense of connection with others).
“When we do things for other people, it makes us feel much more engaged and joyful,” says Dr. Albers. “That’s good for our health and our happiness.”
Physical and mental health benefits associated with giving or serving can include:
Lower blood pressure
Generosity truly is good for your heart, says Dr. Albers. Researchers found that giving to others can lower your blood pressure and protect your ticker. (The effect, by the way, is similar to the positive results brought by a healthy diet and exercise.)
A longer lifespan
The secret to living longer may be giving more of yourself. Studies show that people who volunteer tend to live longer than those who don’t.
Want to melt away stress? The best solution may be to help someone else. Gift-giving or volunteering can reduce your levels of cortisol, the stress hormone that can make you feel overwhelmed or anxious.
A ‘helper’s high’
Giving can stimulate your brain’s mesolimbic pathway, or reward center, while releasing endorphins. That can lead to a “helper’s high” that boosts self-esteem, elevates happiness and combats feelings of depression.
How to give on a budget
Let’s start with this fact: It’s not about money. “Some of the best gifts don’t cost anything,” notes Dr. Albers. “In fact, acts of service often reflect the most thought and care and can be more meaningful than anything you purchase.”
“Act of service” gifts include anything that helps someone out and makes their life just a bit easier. Examples include:
- Walking a neighbor’s dog.
- Doing a housemate’s chores.
- Offering free babysitting for a family friend.
- Helping a tech-challenged relative set up a computer or TV.
Think about tapping into your creative talents for meaningful gifts, too. Maybe that means drawing a portrait for someone or putting together a journal or album highlighting special memories.
Another bonus of a homemade gift? They’re usually budget-friendly, a big plus given the stress that can come with personal finances.
“Using your natural skills can lead to gifts that are heartfelt, memorable and much more meaningful than anything you find in a store,” says Dr. Albers. “It’ll make the recipient feel very special.”
And odds are you’ll feel pretty good, too.