Think the whole holiday gift giving thing is completely overdone and a waste of time and money? Think again. There are a number of scientific studies suggesting that generosity or altruism—the concern for the wellbeing of others—could actually benefit your wellbeing. Remember that warm fuzzy feeling you got when you gave your mom the handmade necklace you worked so hard on, or those concert tickets your brother thought were sold out? Turns out, those moments had a positive impact on your physical and mental wellbeing.
Need proof? Here are some of the science-backed benefits of giving:
Seeing the pure joy on the faces of someone you’ve just helped or given a gift brings you immediate joy as well, right? Right. According to Psychology Today, humans can enjoy something called the “helper’s high,” an instant sense of fulfillment and comfort when you see someone happy with an action you’ve performed. The helper’s high is actually your body’s release of the chemical dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter. Your body is chemically telling itself to feel happy.
Giving back is obviously a heart-warming affair but according to research, it could do a whole lot more for your heart than warm it. Studies done by John Hopkins University show that giving helps lower your blood pressure and levels and anxiety, both major contributors to heart disease. There’s even research suggesting that giving can help givers, especially older adults sleep more soundly.
Adolescents in particular can benefit from giving—it helps them develop a sense of self-worth and community. According to the American Psychological Association, those that engage in self-focused behavior (#treatyourself) rather than social give-back are generally unsuccessful in their quest for happiness and meaning. By nature, humans are social creatures, so through giving, you’re building better social connections and contributing to your role in society—leading to increased confidence and a positive self-image and decreased negative emotions.
Signs of anxiety and depression can actually decrease over time when you give rather than receive, according to a study done by the University of Texas. The study posits that giving (volunteer work, in particular) improves access to social and psychological resources which, in turn, counters negative thoughts and energy. This proves particularly helpful during the cold, dark winter months where seasonal depression and the feeling of loneliness is at its peak. Feeling a little blue? Go out and make someone else’s day.
The best part? Your levels of happiness aren’t affected by how much or how little you spend. According to a study conducted by the University of Zurich, where 50 subjects were given $100 to spend on either themselves or a loved one, out of all of the subjects who chose to spend their cash on someone else, even just a little, experienced no impact on their increased levels of happiness. Even the smallest gestures—a cup of coffee, giving away your last piece of gum, sending someone a card—make a big difference in your and your overall happiness.
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