We know that giving – whether it be time or something physical – can be good for the person benefitting from it. But did you know that giving can actually benefit your physical and mental health too? Let’s take a look at why this happens…

What happens when we give?

Young woman giving a friend a surprise gift

Multiple studies have shown that any act of altruism — a selfless act for others — is connected to positive physical and mental effects. In fact, giving has been linked to:

  • Lower blood pressure.
  • Increased self-esteem.
  • Less incidence of depression.
  • Lower stress levels.
  • Greater happiness.
  • Longer life.

So, how does this happen?

When we give, two areas of our brains are activated — the ventral striatum and the septal area. These feel-good regions of our brains are related to pleasure, trust, and relationships with others. When these regions are activated, we produce a range of feel-good chemicals such as serotonin (connected to good sleep, digestion, memory, learning and appetite), and dopamine (connected to motivation) is also secreted as a result of giving behaviours. This rush is often referred to as a “helper’s high”.

Giving is also linked to a divergence of attention from ourselves to others. Stress and depression is often linked to inner strife, but volunteering or making financial donations can shift our focus outside of ourselves. This can give you new insight and perspective into your situation and lessen the negative mental impact.

Giving is infectious

Young woman giving present to happy grandfather indoors at home at Christmas.

Giving enables higher-quality interactions. It promotes a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our bonds with others. How? Well, because giving is infectious, in more ways than you think.

When we’re in the act of giving, it’s usually during a highly social activity that brings a smile to your face. It turns out, that when you smile the whole world really does smile with you, because you trigger mirror neurons in those who witness you smiling. This, in turn, actually activates those feel-good hormones mentioned earlier.

Meanwhile, when you give, the recipient of your generosity is more likely to give something to you, or others, in return. You are also likely to give again, because it turns out  oxytocin is addictive. This is why giving just once can create an incredible positive feedback loop.

How you can give

People holding a plate receiving a donation from a good friend, the concept of giving with care

Most of us will already be planning our gifts for friends and family members this Christmas, but there are other ways to show kindness and give this festive season.

Today, you could:

  • Say thank you to someone for something they’ve done for you.
  • Phone a family member or friend who may need support or company.
  • Ask a colleague how they are and really listen to the answer.
  • Offer to lend a hand if you see a stranger struggling with something.
  • Make room in your lane for another car merging or give way to someone trying to make a turn.
  • Mow your neighbour’s nature strip whilst mowing your own lawn.

This week, you could:

  • Arrange a day out for you and a relative.
  • Offer to help a friend with a DIY project or a colleague with a work assignment.
  • Use a unique skill you have to make or do something for someone you love.
  • Sign up to a mentoring project, in which you give time and support to someone who will benefit from it.
  • Volunteer in your local community. That might mean helping out at a local school, soup kitchen, hospital or care home.

So, even though Christmas typically represents a season for gift-giving, you don’t have to find the perfect gift or invest lots of money to receive the amazing mental health benefits giving can give you. Giving your time to someone, giving a compliment to someone, giving someone the joy of laughter can all make you – and those on the receiving end – happier.

 

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