There’s never a better time for giving these days. Helping others out and giving back to the community are selfless acts that benefit both sides. And though it’s clear the recipient’s life will be made better by someone else’s good deed, seeing how it affects the giver may not be so easy to see.
According to researchers, the link between giving, better health, and happiness is real. And while some people just love doing things for others, it’s good to know your body and mind can benefit too.
Makes Us Happier
Doing for others or altruism activates the brain’s pleasure-feeling response. This study following those who gave money to charitable organizations showed that those who gave willingly were more likely to give money again. Turns out feeling good about giving drives us to give more.
Other studies prove the benefits of volunteering for depression. Researchers found that those who volunteered more than 100 hours per year had lower depressive symptoms, less loneliness, hopelessness, and were more likely to see friends and participate in social situations.[i] This gives the term “helper’s high” true meaning.
Spending time with others is an important aspect of mental health that is often overlooked. When you’re feeling down, the last thing you want to do is socialize. Though you may not want to be in the presence of others, social connection plays a role in feelings of happiness and reduced symptoms of depression.[ii] Volunteering and giving to others can provide that social connection you may be missing, especially if you find like-minded people or those you can relate to focus your efforts.
Most people experience stress in some form or another throughout the day. Finding ways to reduce stress is important for overall health and well-being. The challenge is making time for stress-relief.
Luckily, giving and doing for others is not only good for the recipient, but also a great way to alleviate stress. Studies show that stress levels are lower on days participants volunteered versus days volunteering was not performed.[iii] Despite what is going on in your personal life, taking the focus away from yourself proves beneficial for your stress levels and mental health.
You may be thinking, how does giving to others help me live longer? The psychological effects of volunteering and giving back are easy to digest, but the fact of the matter is, studies suggest volunteering reduces your risk of hypertension, a risk factor for heart disease.[iv] Any efforts to reduce your risk of cardiovascular disease can go a long way, especially if it’s something as simple as doing for others.
Whether you have charitable donations or donations of your time, giving back is good for your health. There’s no gesture too small – you never know how your efforts will change someone’s life for the better, including yours.
[i] Kim ES, Whillans AV, Lee MT, Chen Y, VanderWeele TJ. Volunteering and Subsequent Health and Well-Being in Older Adults: An Outcome-Wide Longitudinal Approach. Am J Prev Med. 2020 Aug;59(2):176-186. doi:10.1016/j.amepre.2020.03.004
[ii] Weziak-Bialowolska D, Bialowolski P, Lee MT, Chen Y, VanderWeele TJ, McNeely E. Prospective Associations Between Social Connectedness and Mental Health. Evidence From a Longitudinal Survey and Health Insurance Claims Data. Int J Public Health. 2022 Jun 9;67:1604710. doi:10.3389/ijph.2022.1604710
[iii] Han SH, Kim K, Burr JA. Stress-Buffering Effects of Volunteering on Daily Well-Being: Evidence From the National Study of Daily Experiences. J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2020 Sep 14;75(8):1731-1740. doi:10.1093/geronb/gbz052
[iv] Sneed RS, Cohen S. A prospective study of volunteerism and hypertension risk in older adults. Psychol Aging. 2013 Jun;28(2):578-86. doi:10.1037/a0032718