The Health Benefits of Giving
We, humans, thrive on contact and communication, so we surround ourselves with people who share our values and our preferences. The natural scale of giving and taking in all of those relationships is precisely what helps us feel like we belong and it seems that it also has a profound effect on our health and wellbeing. Now that we’re slowly approaching the holiday season and you’re about to be surrounded by opportunities to give (and get), it could be good to learn just how much your health depends on the sheer act of giving.
Various studies have confirmed that our inclination to give and share our wealth with others comes with a whole range of positive outcomes that can give your life purpose, meaning, and substance. Before you get a holiday shopping-induced headache, here are a few reasons to enjoy the holiday season and make others happy – so that your life will become all the more valuable for it.
No matter how old you are, you’re constantly reminded by a slew of online and print media outlets that exercise and diet are the two key pillars to living a long and healthy life. As true as that may be, there seems to be another piece of the puzzle we’ve been missing out on for too long. Research has shown that people who spend time doing volunteer work have reduced their risk of mortality by 25% and live longer than those who don’t.
The factor that matters is that you should choose the kind of work that you strongly feel will make a difference and has meaning to you. So, if you want to help animals in need, working in an animal shelter could be a great chance for volunteering and donating your time and skills. In case you’d like to help impoverished families, setting up funds and care packages during the holiday season are also valid ways to help.
Adding purpose to your life
Even without a severe mental health issue such as depression, so many of us often feel that we’re not doing our best or that there’s too much “empty” time in our life with no direction or purpose. When you find yourself feeling like that, you can instantly change that and order flowers online for your grandma or your spouse. Yes, even if it’s not an anniversary or a particular occasion. Such a simple token of appreciation can mean a world to those you love.
You can treat your friend to a cup of coffee on your way to work or send your dad a brand-new winter scarf. Taking a moment to think of others and go a little out of your way to make them feel loved is enough in between those volunteer sessions to give those “empty” moments a meaning and a purpose.
Adding happiness to your life
When you spend time giving your time, skills, money, or affection to someone or something you care about, be it directly to people or to a cause, you activate certain neural reactions in your brain that literally produce the feeling of happiness. For starters, you begin producing oxytocin, one of those famous happy chemicals, and the resulting feeling has been dubbed the “helper’s high” precisely because of that elation and exhilaration of making a difference.
Essentially, the more you give, the more you’ll be able to infuse your body with the right kind of hormonal balance that reduces inflammation and allows you to feel good about the work that you’re doing. This might be a great time to send your loved one a gift such as Sasha Sagan’s book on finding meaning, or even just a box of chocolates to make someone’s day.
Giving as a form of recovery
Depression is one of the most common mental health issues we struggle with today, and while it can be extremely difficult to treat and find the perfect balance of activities that help those with depression cope, it seems that helping others and giving can have a restorative effect on our minds and bodies alike. People with depression often feel useless, with no direct desire to make an effort, since even breathing can feel like effort in those darkest times. Giving is the perfect antidote that can help defeat those negative feelings that can be so overwhelming.
In case you’re looking for ways to cope with these emotions or even depression, combined with medical treatment and regular therapy, volunteer work has the power to restore that sense of purpose, structure, and meaning to your life.
Our lives gain a whole new perspective when we put ourselves in the shoes of others and try to imagine what would make them happy, relieved, or loved. Giving your time, skills, or care is a perfect way to start this holiday season and to add another layer of health to your existence for a long and happy life.