We all know that warm, fuzzy feeling that comes from making a difference and doing something good for somebody without expecting anything in return. But did you know that the benefits of giving reach further than simply feeling good inside?
It turns out that the famous saying “It’s better to give than receive” is actually backed by research. Evidence shows that helping others can actually benefit our own mental and physical health and wellbeing, from reducing stress and the risk of heart disease to lifting depression and even living longer. Let’s explore some of the ways in which the gift of giving can benefit you, and some of the ways you can give back.
Giving Reduces Stress
The results of a report by lead researchers Tristen Inagaki of University Pittsburgh and Naomi Eisenberger of the University of California add to an emerging literature suggesting that giving support can pose health benefits related to reduced stress.
The study, which included 36 subjects, focused on changes within the areas of the brain related to stress response. When monitored, participants who reported giving the most support showed reduced activation in the stress-related area of the brain while performing a stressful mental math task. The study concluded that helping and supporting others might improve the health of the giver by reducing activity in stress- and threat-related regions in the brain during stressful experiences. By giving, you therefore not only have the opportunity to make someone else’s life easier, but reduce your own stress too.
Compassion Lifts Depression And Improves Relationships
It might sound contradictory, but putting energy into helping others can be a great psychological pick-me-up when you’re feeling down. A recent study found that seeking ways to feel better about ourselves, like being compassionate, can relieve depression.
The study examined two ways of increasing one’s sense of self-worth in a sample of adults with depression and/or anxiety. The first route focussed on self-image goals – getting others to notice their positive qualities – while the second focussed on compassionate goals where participants helped others by making a difference in their lives.
The researchers assessed the participants’ levels of depression and anxiety against each goal. Interestingly, the analyses showed that participants who focussed on self-image goals experienced more relationship conflict and worse depression symptoms; while participants who focussed on compassionate goals towards others had lower levels of depression and less relationship conflict. From this it’s clear that by turning our attention towards others and the gift of giving, we can find relief from depression and anxiety while improving our relationships.
Volunteerism Improves Longevity
While scientists still haven’t found a way to live forever, there is a proven way to lengthen your lifespan. A study conducted on more than 800 people led by the University at Buffalo, found a link between living a compassionate lifestyle and longevity. It turns out that volunteering can act as a buffer against the health-damaging effects of stress, which can lead to a longer life. These findings were supported by another study conducted in 2012, which found that people who engaged in volunteerism lived longer than their non-volunteering peers. Interestingly, this was only true if their reasons for volunteering were altruistic rather than self-serving. It just goes to show that a little sincere selflessness can go a long way.
Helping Others Can Lower Blood Pressure
While volunteering has been shown to help people feel more socially connected and self-confident, and less lonely and depressed, a study from Carnegie Mellon University suggests that people who give their time to others might also be rewarded with better physical wellbeing, specifically having lower blood pressure.
The Research, focussed on middle-aged and older adults, found that the individuals who had volunteered at least 200 hours in the 12 months prior to baseline were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers. Although the study did not explain the link between volunteerism and blood pressure, one can assume that the increased physical activity that goes hand-in-hand with volunteer work helps reduce blood pressure, and therefore also the risk of heart disease and stroke. Of course, the stress-reducing effects of compassion may also play a role in this amazing health benefit.
Ways Of Making A Difference
Clearly, there are many benefits to giving. Beautiful acts of compassion not only have the power to change someone’s life but can have a positive impact on the giver’s own mental and physical wellbeing too. There are many ways of making a difference with good deeds and it doesn’t need to take a lot of time or even cost money. Here are some ideas on how to get started.
Volunteering is a great way of helping others and there are plenty of ways to do this. Whether you get involved with your neighborhood watch, support a charity that’s close to your heart, start a fundraising event for a worthy cause or involve your friends in a community clean-up project, you will find that there are always opportunities to help by giving your time and energy.
Listening, mentoring and counseling are all forms of support. A self-help group is an ideal place to help your peers by sharing your experience, knowledge, empathy and emotional support, all of which can be incredibly valuable to someone who is going through a difficult time.
Random Acts Of Kindness
One of the greatest feelings comes from making someone smile – a random act of kindness that’s completely unexpected. Call a friend you haven’t spoken to in a while, visit your nan and grandad, send someone flowers, shovel snow for an elderly neighbor or give praise to a colleague for something they’ve done well. It’s guaranteed to make the both of you smile.
Gaming For Charity
Givers who gravitate towards unusual charities may find gaming for charity rewarding and fulfilling. One such platform, Health Games allows you to support health-related good causes while playing a range of online casino games. Health Games is the only UK online gaming site that directly supports health-related grassroots charities by donating a portion of profits to address health inequalities in Britain. By gaming for charity through Health Games you not only have the opportunity to support a worthy cause but win cash prizes too.