When the holidays come around, it can be a stressful time – both for your bank account and your well-being. The pressure and commitments to get presents, host family events, and spend time with other people can be taxing. However, this time of year can also lead to darker feelings like anxiety, sadness, and depression depending on the situation.
Yet, psychologists believe there may be something simple we can counteract these negative feelings and actually do some good in the process: give to those who are in need. In this post, we’ll explore why the act of giving is not just “good” but also good for you as well.
Giving Is Euphoric
It doesn’t take a college professor to tell you that one of the best reasons to give is because it simply makes you feel good inside. This is something that’s understood even at our earliest stages of development.
In a TED Talk presentation given by researcher Elizabeth Dunn, the speaker described how she and her colleagues studied the connection between giving and happiness with toddlers. They were asked to share their goldfish crackers with a stuffed animal who had none, and each time they did the toddler displayed joy.
As adults, when you selflessly give something of yours away, it can create a positive feeling known as the “helper’s high”. Whether you’re giving something to your own children or even people that you’ve never met, it creates a chemical response in your brain to release endorphins. According to a study by the National Institutes of Health, it was found that giving to charities activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust.
In other words, this is the same “high” people get from bad things like drugs and gambling. But instead of doing something destructive, you’re doing good in the eyes of others. Hopefully, it programs our brains to continue to be selfless and philanthropic.
Gratitude and Giving Back
The world is full of people who are less fortunate than us. If you don’t think so, go spend a day volunteering at a homeless shelter or food drive. What you’re come to learn is that the people you’ll meet really aren’t that much different than you and me. Oftentimes what separates us is one job loss, injury, or an event that was outside of our control.
When you see what true pain and struggle look like, it can help you to realize how fortunate you really are. All of your own problems and insecurities may actually pale against what these people deal with regularly. That can make you appreciate all the things you have to be thankful for in life like health, financial resources, and most importantly the love and support of others.
When you realize you probably have more than your fair share, you’ll want to share it with others. This is a great way to express your gratitude for life and good fortune. Whether it be through giving financially, servitude, or some other means, share what you have with the world.
You’ll Become Mentally and Physically Stronger
Not a lot of people realize this, but the way you think and your emotions surrounding a topic greatly affect your physical health too. This is why people who consciously choose to fight critical diseases often end up lasting longer than those who simply give up.
When it comes to giving the, same can be just as true. In a study conducted by two psychologists, Dr. Robert A. Emmons of the University of California, Davis, and Dr. Michael E. McCullough of the University of Miami, they found that people who expressed gratitude not only had a more positive outlook on life, but they also felt more motivated to do good things for themselves like eat better and exercise. Additionally, they reported taking fewer trips to the doctor.
In the same way, giving can elicit these types of positive physical responses. Normally when your body is faced with stress, it releases the hormone cortisol into your bloodstream – your body’s natural “flight or fight” response. While this can be helpful in actual situations of danger, most of the time it just ends up resulting in unnecessarily high blood pressure and obesity. Instead, we can use the act of giving to reduce our stress, feel better about our purpose on Earth, and let our bodies function as they normally should.
Giving Renews Our Faith in Others
Oftentimes, people will let you down. Not only does the media only report all of the bad things that they do like theft, murder, crime, etc., but your everyday negative interactions with poor customer service and other drivers cutting you off on the road can make you start to think the worst of your fellow man.
This is where getting involved in something charitable can change your outlook completely. When you do, you’ll find out there’s actually a lot of good out there too. People with lives and families just as busy as yours will donate their time on the weekends to help others who are in need it. They’re an inspiration because of what they do – not because they’re paid to but simply because it’s the right thing to do.
Find Room in Your Budget for More Giving
Understandably, you may not think you have any extra money to give to charity or help out those less fortunate. It can especially seem this way around the holidays when you’ve got a list of gifts and other expenses you’re responsible for buying.
However, I’m sure that if you were to take a close enough look, you’d find there’s more there than you thought. We all spend hundreds if not thousands of dollars every year on frivolous purchases such as overpriced coffee, restaurants, sports games, concerts, etc. And how did any of those things make you feel? I’m going to guess that it would do a lot more for you to make someone else’s Christmas come true than to buy something for yourself just because you could.
If you don’t believe it, then try monitoring your budget for at least a month. Use an app like Buxfer to connect to your bank accounts and collect all your transactions. Before long, I’m sure you’ll start to notice that there might be more fat in your budget than you previously thought and that perhaps those funds could be better used elsewhere.
Don’t forget – Giving doesn’t have to just be financial. It can be your time too. Take a day or two to help out a charity, work at the Humane Society, or even just lend an ear to those who don’t have anyone else. It can make a world of difference for them and do all kinds of good for you.
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