The Art of Giving

“No act of kindness, however small, is ever wasted.” - Aesop

At this time of year it is good to reflect on why we enjoy buying presents for others. Yes, it is a traditional custom at Christmas, but research shows it is also really good for our health as well.

There is a saying that “Money can’t buy happiness” but it actually can if you spend it on others.

A number of studies have shown that giving money to others or to charity will improve your sense of well-being than spending on yourself.

Michael Norton, a professor at Harvard Business School, questioned 632 Americans about their level of income and what they spent their money on. They were also asked to rate their own happiness. They found that regardless of income, those who spent money on others were decidedly happier than those who spent more on themselves.

Giving increases our feelings of happiness. Altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.” Endorphins not only improve our mental outlook, but they also help to reduce physical pain, improve our immune function and lead to a greater sense of well-being

Giving is good for our health. I speak about the impacts of stress on a daily basis, and for good reason as stress is the number 1 cause of medical visits. Research shows that giving to others reduces our levels of cortisol, a common stress hormone, and promotes an increased production of GABA and serotonin, our feel good neurotransmitters. We tend to feel less stressed when we actively give to others.

Giving promotes increased social connection. When you give, you’re more likely to get back. Several studies have suggested that when you give to others, your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line—sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else.

These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our ties to others—and research has shown that having positive social interactions is central to good mental and physical health.

Giving promotes feelings of gratitude. Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of a gift, that gift can elicit feelings of gratitude. It can be a way of expressing gratitude to others or instilling gratitude in the recipient.

Research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and improved social bonds. Happiness researcher, Barbara Fredrickson found that “When you express your gratitude in words or actions, you not only boost your own positivity but other people’s as well, and in the process you reinforce their kindness and strengthen your bond to one another.”

Giving is often contagious (and this is the only kind of contagious we want this year!)

When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our friends, family and larger community, in effect ‘Paying it forward’ on a both small and large scales.

Researchers in the US showed that when one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people.

So this holiday season whether you choose to buy gifts, volunteer your time, or donate money to your favorite charity, know that your giving is much more than just traditional chore, but a way to improve your health and build stronger social connections in your community. And inevitably you will find yourself getting a big dose of HAPPY in the process.