This year in my family, we are placing “giving” at the forefront of our lessons with our son this Christmas, but little did I know how good it is for our health. I always had heard that it was “better to give than to receive,” and I recall when volunteering how great it feels, but I never understood exactly why until now.
Let’s start with increasing self-esteem and lowering levels of depression. Depression and lack of self-esteem have been linked with heart disease and other health conditions.
In a 2013 study, 100 high school students were randomly grouped into volunteers and non-volunteers. At the beginning of the study, they had an equal body mass index (BMI) and cholesterol levels.
The volunteer group worked once a week for two months, helping with younger children in an afterschool program. Their LDL (bad cholesterol) lowered and their BMI did as well.
A 2008 study by Professor Michael Norton at Harvard Business School found that giving money to someone else lifted the participants’ happiness more than spending the money on themselves. A similar study with acts of kindness over six weeks resulted in the same outcome.
The practice of giving also increases our endorphins that increase happiness. This has been referred to as a “helper’s high.” It technically isn’t the act of giving that gives us these health benefits, but it is because of the kindness that we express that increases positive energy, which cuts our stress hormones and lowers chemicals that increase inflammation in our body.
Researchers suggest that one reason giving might improve physical health and longevity is that it helps decrease stress. In 2006, a study by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee recorded that those who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who did not.
One of the best benefits of giving is that it seems to be contagious. A study by James Folwer of the University of California San Diego and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard found that when one gives, it inspires observers to behave generously later. It also showed the wide impact that one person can have to influence hundreds of observers. The act of giving releases oxytocin, which increases our desire to be close to others and to be empathetic.
This past year has been difficult for many and there is great need. Giving of time and resources is even more important than ever. In addition, by performing acts of giving we are actually strengthening our bodies, which will benefit from lower blood pressure, lower stress levels, lower anxiety and depression, and an increased self-esteem.
Giving is indeed better than receiving.
Holly Wright of Bluffton is a Reiki Master, reflexologist, NASM certified personal fitness trainer, and co-owner of Trinity TheraSpa in Moss Creek Village. trinitytheraspa.com