Once the Thanksgiving feast has ended, our emphasis shifts from what we have been given to what we give to others. It’s not just the toys and gadgets and all the rest that we give. It’s the time we spend in community with others. It’s the charities we donate to. It’s the food and drink and tasty treats we share.
It’s a time when our spirits can become extra generous.
But did you know that generosity is good for your health and well-being, too? Here are just a few of the ways that, by giving, we receive:
Generosity Lowers Stress
Generosity provides a real counterweight to stress – holiday-induced or otherwise. A 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health, for instance, found an association among helping others, stress and mortality.
Experiencing stressful events significantly predicted increased mortality over the study period among those who had not tangibly helped others in the past year, but among those who had provided help, there was no association between stress and mortality. In effect, this finding suggests that, among individuals who do not help others, exposure to a stressful life event is associated with 30% increased mortality risk.
Helping behavior, along with other types of social interaction, is associated with positive health outcomes, including reduced mortality. The present research indicates that helping valued others predicts reduced mortality specifically because it buffers the association between stress and mortality.
This may happen for a variety of reasons from shifting your focus from your own concerns to the care of others or the release of “feel good” endorphins. Similarly, giving has been linked to other health benefits, like lowering blood pressure, reducing inflammation, and improving mental as well as physical health.
Generosity Boosts Gratitude and Happiness
When you give to others, you often see more of all the good in your own life. Sure, some days, you may feel like Scrooge, but just like Scrooge learned, an overall positive and grateful attitude goes a long way. Gratitude itself lends to happiness, as David Steindl-Rast notes in this wonderful Ted Talk.
Gratitude, of course, goes beyond just saying “thank you” to be polite. It’s a mind-set of continuous thankfulness for everything one has. Studies have found that gratitude can lead to improvements in, among other things, sleep and mood, the quality of life for those dealing with chronic illness, and overall mental health.
What’s more, as noted in the APS Observer, one person’s generosity often prompts other generous acts:
Acts of generosity and kindness beget more generosity in a chain reaction of goodness. You may have seen one of the news reports about chain reactions that occur when someone pays for the coffee of the drivers behind them at a drive-through restaurant or at a highway tollbooth. People keep the generous behavior going for hours. Our acts of compassion uplift others and make them happy.
Keeping this cycle going is great for your health – and for making the world just a little bit kinder.
Generosity Builds Relationships
We show each other that we care in so many ways – from a simple phone call to spending time with our families to helping out a friend (or stranger) in need. We give gifts – even silly ones – as a way of saying, “You matter to me.”
This holiday season, why not put a more personal touch on your gifts – something you make yourself or, instead of just more stuff, an experience you help create. Personalizing your giving makes lasting memories and strengthens the bonds we share with our loved ones.
Simple acts of kindness can go a long way to make someone’s day a little brighter. Without much effort, you can certainly think of others who would appreciate your generosity, your time, and your talents. Consider volunteering at a local shelter or community center, sending care packages, or donating money to a helping organization.
In a world of pain and inequality, generosity is often the strongest motivator of social connectedness. You can be a part of a movement to make the world a little safer, healthier, and kinder.