Most people know that giving feels good, but did you know it also has powerful effects on your mental health, physical health, and even your longevity? In fact, giving to others doesn’t just help them, it also helps you. Generosity research has linked a number of giving practices to lower anxiety, improved mood, and increased life satisfaction. Let’s dive deeper into how the simple act of giving can transform your well-being.
The lean version:
- Lowers Your Blood Pressure
- Giving can be just as effective at lowering high-blood pressure as diet and exercise.
- Reduces Risk of Early Death
- Being generous can reduce risk of early death by up to 58%.
- Relieves Stress & Anxiety
- Lending a helping hand floods your brain with natural happiness hormones that can help reduce stress and anxiety.
- Improves Self-Esteem & Depression
- Seeking goals that serve others instead of ourselves can transform your self-esteem and improve symptoms of depression.
The helper’s high
If you’ve ever donated money or contributed to a cause, then you’ve probably experienced the “helper’s high”. It’s that euphoric feeling that kicks in anytime you give, donate, or lend a helping hand. The buzz comes from your brain being flooded with endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin and it turns out it’s hard-wired. In fact, the same part of your brain that lights up from sex, drugs, and food also gets triggered when you give.
But it’s more than just a pleasure booster; happiness researchers found that people who regularly volunteered or gave away money experienced greater life satisfaction and overall happiness. And, the more people gave out of their household income the happier they tended to feel.
Plus, another study found that giving can also help reduce anxiety, stress, and depression but only under certain conditions. When participants got to decide when to give and how much, their happiness skyrocketed.
So, what about receiving? That feels pretty good too, right?
Well, yeah, but it doesn’t last as long. Science shows that when we receive something, the happiness we feel diminishes quickly. On the other hand, the joy we experience from giving doesn’t taper off as rapidly. The difference is a lot like the quick sugar spike you get from eating a candy bar versus the long-term satisfaction you gain when you enjoy a hearty, healthy meal.
The bottom line? You’re wired for giving, but it’s not just your mental health that gets all the perks; your physical fitness can benefit too.
Giving, living, and fitness
Did you know that being generous can be just as effective at lowering high blood pressure as diet and exercise? It’s true. In a six-week social experiment, participants were given $40 to spend either on themselves or others. Those who spent the cash on someone else had significantly lower blood pressure by the end of the study.
While reducing your stress and lowering your blood pressure can make for a better quality of life, it turns out giving can also contribute to a longer one. In another study done by UC Berkeley, researchers discovered that volunteering and having a strong sense of purpose can reduce your risk of early death by up to 58%.
The reason? Scientists believe it has something to do with relieving stress and building strong emotional connections. Here’s the kicker: Participants who only received help didn’t improve risk of death at all. It seems Francis of Assisi was onto something when he said, “For it is in giving that we receive.”
The compassion effect
It’s human nature to think that by spending on ourselves we’ll feel happier, by consuming we’ll feel fulfilled, or that by talking ourselves up we’ll improve our confidence. But a growing body of research is painting a different picture.
In a recent study done by the University of Michigan, adults struggling with depression were tasked with the goal of improving their self-worth. One group was told to pursue this goal by promoting themselves — trying to get others to notice their positive qualities and obtaining more status. The second group was tasked with taking the “compassionate” route — extending acts of kindness and dedicating themselves to caring for the needs of those around them.
You’re probably starting to see the trend at this point, but participants who dedicated themselves to caring for the needs of others enjoyed a significant improvement not only in their mood but in their self-esteem. The other group? They weren’t so lucky. According to the results, they didn’t experience any improvement.
Here’s why. Our self-esteem tends to be based on two things: our relationship with others and how we see ourselves. When we give, we feel like we’re making a difference. And, when we feel like we’re making a difference, we foster more meaningful relationships, connect to a stronger sense of purpose, and our view of ourselves transforms.
The emotional, physical, and mental benefits of helping those around us could be an insight into the human spirit or just a survival response that evolved over time, either way, the impact and surprising effects of giving are undeniable.
How to get started giving
If you want to start giving beyond yourself, the good news is it doesn’t have to be grand or complicated. You can start by dropping some money in the tip jar during your daily coffee run, giving weekly to a worthy cause, or dedicating one Saturday morning a month to help out at your local soup kitchen.
The key to unlocking a cause that inspires your “inner giver” can also be found in your own setbacks. Is there a specific challenge you’ve faced that you can now help others navigate? Is there a problem you’ve solved that you can help others solve in their own lives? It’s often our personal experiences that equip us for a greater sense of purpose and contribution.
If you’re time-crunched but still want to get in on the action, you could simply donate to a cause that’s close to your heart. You might find it reinvigorates you to work for more than just a paycheck.
So, ask yourself, what do you want to give to? Where can you do some good? Is there an organization that you want to get behind? If so, considering contributing in one way or another, your brain, body, and others will thank you for it.