It goes without saying that giving is good – It’s pretty obvious. Your initial thought about giving is probably the good that it does for the recipient – But what if we said that giving is actually good for the donor, too? Not just in terms of that fuzzy feeling we get from being altruistic, but how that feeling can impact our health and happiness.
You might look after your health and happiness by practising self-care, moving your body in the gym, going for a run or soaking in a hot bubble bath. What if you could add to this routine by introducing a small, regular donation to a charity that matters to you?
Here are 5 ways giving is good for you.
#1. Happiness. There is nothing quite like giving a gift to someone that you know they are going to love and use – Such a warm feeling! And making a donation is just the same. A 2008 study asked participants to predict what would make them feel happier – Spending money on themselves, or giving it to someone else. Predictions showed that people thought they would feel happier spending on themselves, whereas the research found that actually their happiness was lifted more by giving the money to someone else. This finding was mirrored in a study by a happiness expert who found that people who performed five acts of kindness each week for 6 weeks were happier than those who didn’t. This isn’t just a feeling however – there is also biological evidence that these good feelings have an effect on our body. A study in 2006 found that when we make a donation to charity, we activate parts of our brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust – A physical manifestation of that good feeling. Scientists also have reason to believe that when we engage in altruistic behaviour, our brain releases endorphins creating a positive feeling – the ‘helpers high.’
#2. Health. There is much research that has found a link between generosity in various forms and better health. This has even been seen in those who are elderly or ill. In Stephen Post’s book Why Good Things Happen to Good People he writes about how giving to others was shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illnesses such as HIV and MS. A 1999 study also found that elderly people who volunteered for 2 or more organisations were 44% less likely to die than non-volunteers – Even having been controlled for age, exercise habits, general health and negative health habits like smoking. That is really quite something when you think about it! In 2003 a similar study found that elderly couples who helped friends, relatives or neighbours had a lower risk of dying over a 5 year period. But why is this connection between giving and better health there? Researchers have suggested that it could be down to reducing stress levels – A study in 2006 found that participants who gave social support to others had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t, suggesting that giving (in various forms) could have a direct physiological effect on the body
#3. Social Connection. Despite the belief that many types of giving stems from altruistic behaviour with no expectation of getting something back, the fact is that when you do choose to give, you are more likely to get something in return. Whether that’s a reciprocated gift during the festive season, a heartfelt thank you for a charitable donation or that good feeling you get from doing something good – You inevitably do get something in return. Studies by sociologists have suggested that giving is rewarded further down the line by others’ generosity – Whether it’s the person you gave to, or someone else. A bit like paying it forward – You might forget your purse one day and a kind stranger offers to pay for your basket of shopping; That kind stranger might not get their money back from you, but you can in turn repay the favour to someone else in need on another day in the future. These sorts of exchanges strengthen our ties with other people through trust and cooperation, which in turn strengthen our mental and physical health via positive social interactions. You know the types of story that go viral on social media, renewing our faith in humanity. Social connection and reciprocal altruism goes a long way in advancing health and happiness. By giving to others we feel closer to them and bring them closer to us, building bonds and strengthening relationships. This is true for charitable donations to – A regular donor who receives news of how their donation is directly helping others is likely to feel happy and compelled to keep giving, building a trusting and long-lasting relationship with their chosen charity. A sense of interdependence in a social community fosters trust, kindness and generosity where we can perceive ourselves and those around us as charitable and positive.
#4. Gratitude. There is a lot of talk out there currently on the huge benefits of gratitude on mental health and wellbeing – Finding even the smallest things to be grateful for each day has been shown to cause positive changes in the brain and our thought patterns. You might think of gratitude as something you feel when you receive a gift, but it could be the motive behind giving a gift too. Studies have suggested that students who were encouraged to count their blessings went on to exercise more, have a more optimistic attitude and generally feel better about their lives. Another study also found that expressing gratitude to a friend or partner can strengthen that relationship and sense of connection with that person. Gratitude is fast becoming a key instrument to increase personal happiness by not just boosting our own positivity but those around us too.
5. Contagion. We’ve spoken in previous blogs about how giving is contagious and the reasons behind why when we see someone else give, we feel compelled to do so. JustGiving and similar fundraising platforms are great examples of this. When we make the decision to make a donation, we’re not helping just the immediate beneficiary but causing a ripple effect of generosity through the people around us. Studies have found that when one person behaves generously, it can inspire those around them to behaves similarly later on to someone else. Just like the ‘paying it forward’ phenomenon we spoke about earlier. In this way, a generous person could end up influencing people down the line they’ve never even met. And just like some of the other ways we’ve mentioned, this contagion isn’t just for a feeling – There is biology behind it too. When we give, our body releases a hormone called oxytocin causing feelings of warmth and even euphoria, building connections to those around us. Neuroeconomics research has found that even a single ‘dose’ of oxytocin can cause more feelings of empathy and generosity towards people which can then trigger a domino effect of virtuosity from person to person. Sounds like something this world needs – an epidemic of altruism.
So there you go. 5 reasons why giving is good for you by boosting your happiness and health. Whether you choose to donate to charity, volunteer your time or even just practice gratitude on a daily basis, you could be part of a movement building stronger social connections and jump-starting cascades of generosity. And whether your altruistic or not – Research suggests that you’ll be benefitting from your generosity with something as pure as increased happiness.