Ounce of prevention | Giving is good
We all know that giving, benevolence, charity, call it what you, will benefits the recipient. But what is not so well appreciated is how good giving is for the giver. Whether we feed the poor, volunteer for a charitable organisation, offer emotional support, pray for others, or donate to a charity, studies show that giving helps us physically, mentally and spiritually. It seems that charity might indeed start at home. Your thoughts and actions, in helping others, help you.
There are few feelings that surpass that of knowing you helped someone - whether it's through a financial donation, or a mentoring programme, or giving up your seat on a crowded bus. It feels good - and is good.
GIVING PROMOTES HAPPINESS
A study conducted at Harvard Business School found that giving money to someone else lifted participants' happiness more that spending it on themselves. Biologically, giving activates regions in the brain associated with pleasure, connection with others and trust. During gift-giving, the human brain secretes feel-good chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health did special brain MRIs on subjects who gave to charities and found that giving stimulates the reward centre in the brain to releasing endorphins and created what they called a "helper's high", similar to the so-called runner's high. Ninety percent of people who experience this high evaluated their health status as better than those who had not. They felt that giving strengthened their immune system, promoted positive emotions, decreased pain, and provided stress relief.
In his book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Professor Stephen Post of Stony Brook University reports that giving to others provided health benefits in people with chronic illness, including HIV and multiple sclerosis. A lot of research has linked different forms of generosity to better health, even among the sick and elderly.
Researchers actually found that people who gave their time to help others through community and organisational outreach had greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who did not.
Blood pressure and heart benefits:
A study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology showed that people who gave social support to others had lower blood pressure than people who did not. The research suggested a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves.
Other studies revealed that heart-attack patients who did charitable deeds recover faster than those who did not and those who engaged in volunteer work have death rates two and half times lower than those who don't.
Giving lengthens life:
A University of California, Berkeley, study showed that people over 55 who did volunteer work for multiple organisations were 44 per cent less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn't volunteer.
Researchers at the University of Michigan found similar results in elderly people who helped friends, relatives and neighbours, or who were emotionally supportive to their spouses.
HOW TO GIVE
But how we give is also important. When giving something to individuals, we want you to find a way to allow them to retain their dignity. Though people very often need help, they don't want to feel like charity cases. They feel better when they, too, can pass something along to others. This also makes giving more attractive since you can help many more people than just the ones you targeted with your kindness. So be thoughtful in your giving and encourage the recipient to pass something on.
Giving without expecting anything back is particularly healthy. While many people talk about giving back, that is not necessarily the most useful approach. It is not the obligation to give back that is empowering, but the privilege and opportunity we have to make a positive contribution. You don't have an obligation to society to find some bigger purpose, but you do have an obligation to your own health and happiness. And the more you value what you are doing, the more you will do healthier positive things.
WHAT TO GIVE
You don't have to donate money. Donating your time, your skills and expertise and passion is equally valuable. A smile, a compliment or a kind word are invaluable contributions. In many cultures and religious traditions, this time of the year is particularly associated with gift-giving. Unfortunately, many popular gifts like alcohol or confectionery are not particularly healthy or useful. I would encourage readers to consider giving gifts that promote health, well-being, beauty or personal development. Health foods, vitamin supplements, natural skin and haircare products, and interesting books and CDs with great music are a few examples. Let's take our giving to higher level this season.
- You may email Dr Vendryes at tonyvendryes
15 p.m. Visit www.tonyvendryes.com for details on his books and articles.