What Giving as a Lifestyle Can Do for Your Health, Happiness, More
We’ve all heard it’s more blessed to give than to receive. Probably like you, I take that on faith. But it’s fun to see how research agrees that special benefits come from giving, not just receiving.
Giving has been an important part of Christmas ever since the Three Wise Men presented their gifts of gold, frankincense, and myrrh. But sometimes it seems like receiving is the main point of the holiday, doesn't it?
I get it. I like receiving gifts as much as the next person. But if you want to give yourself a real gift, try generosity toward others.
5 Research-Backed Benefits
Like expressing gratitude, there’s a lot of research demonstrating that generosity enhances our quality of life. Here are 5 ways generosity gives back to us:
- Generosity makes us healthy. Chronic high blood pressure kills millions every year. But one study found generosity actually reduced blood pressure as much as medicine and exercise.
And it’s not just blood pressure. Generosity also lowers the risk of dementia, reduces anxiety and depression, improves chronic pain management, and more. “If you were somehow able to package this into a compound, you’d be a billionaire overnight,” said Stephen G. Post of Stony Brook University School of Medicine.
- Generosity makes us happy. Giving our time and money to others gives us an emotional boost. Why? According to researcher Christian Smith it’s because feeling good is a product of doing good. It’s built into our neurochemistry.
Giving triggers feel-good chemicals like endorphins, dopamine, and oxytocin. And it’s true across cultural and economic lines, too, according to a Harvard Business School study. It’s just part of being human.
Generosity lowers our stress. We don’t think of Scrooge as a mellow guy, do we? Here’s why. It turns out being stingy can actually raise our stress levels.
After hooking people up to heart monitors, researchers found that when they felt they were giving too little in a transaction it actually drove up their stress. Being generous, on the other hand, kept stress down. It’s like the Golden Rule in action.
Generosity improves our relationships. In a study of generosity and its effect in marriage, researchers found that the recipient of generosity expressed high levels of marital satisfaction, but so did the giver.
“[P]articipants’ reports of behaving in a generous fashion toward their spouse were linked to their own reports of marital quality,” said the researchers. “The extension of generosity toward the spouse was positively related to their own reports of marital satisfaction. . . .”
Generosity extends our lives. All this adds up to longer life-expectancy. In fact, one study of 2,000 people in Marin, California, found volunteering dramatically reduced mortality rates.
“Subjects who volunteered for two or more causes had a 63 percent lower rate of mortality than people who didn't volunteer during the study period,” said one report.
Make It a Habit
None of these studies are directly about Christmas, of course. But there’s an important connection in my mind. How so? Thinking about God can actually lead us to be more generous.
Two related studies demonstrate this—not to mention years of personal experience. And Christmas is a natural time of year to turn our minds in this direction.
But we can’t leave it there. If we want the full positive effect of generosity, we have to make it a regular, ongoing part of our lives.
Generosity “has to be a practice,” said Smith. “The empirical evidence was very clear. Nothing we tested where you just do it one time has an effect. But all the things that you have to sustain over time have that effect.”
Post said being truly generous even once did have an impact, but “it is best to do so with some regularity.”
The habit of generosity is the key. It’s a lifestyle, and there’s no better time of year than Christmas to begin giving that gift to others—and to ourselves.
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