The Gift of Giving
Science suggests that generous people are happier people.
Giving of yourself to others, through volunteering or supporting a community organization can increase your mood, happiness, overall well-being and even life longevity. It’s the gift that “gives back”.
Giving to others doesn’t only include organized major events. It could be watching someone’s children, running errands for someone, providing a needed ride, helping people at work, or monetary donations.
Countless studies have found that both the act of volunteering and charitable giving contribute to these positive effects on both mood and health. Two such studies support these benefits. One study showed that giving to others helped to reduce stress in participants and increase life longevity. A second study showed that volunteering has a positive impact on life satisfaction and well-being, while reducing depression.
Scientists have developed many theories about why these acts have such a positive impact on us. One theory dates to our primal ancestry and survival instincts from two billion years ago, where the overall community had to do well for the individual to survive.
Volunteering can also be very therapeutic. It often gives the volunteer perspective on their own life, helping them to appreciate and cope with their own struggles. Volunteering also connects people and helps them feel as though they are part of a community. Giving back can also increase your self-esteem by taking the focus off yourself, and onto others (since most people are hardest on themselves, making self-focus often negative).
But for generous giving to have this positive effect, it needs to be heart-felt. Although there are many self-benefits to volunteering, a study published in the APA journal Health Psychology showed that to reap the health benefits of giving, the act has to motivated by helping others and not to solely benefit self.
Volunteering and giving to others can become a cycle that helps you to feel good. This positive feeling can help keep you motivated to make the time to do it again and again. The adage, “it is better to give than receive” may just make for a healthier you.