by Dana George | Updated July 17, 2021 - First published on Nov. 9, 2019
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Looking for a way to help others while making yourself feel great? Here's how you can.
What happens when someone mentions the upcoming holidays? Do you experience a sense of warmth, remembering past holidays? Do you shudder, remembering past holidays? Do you automatically think of the 1,000 things you must do before you can celebrate properly?
No matter how you feel about the holidays, there is one sure way to make them work for you -- by practicing generosity. It doesn't matter what you do, whether it's buying toys for kids whose parents can't afford them, visiting neighborhood shut-ins, delivering goods to a food bank, or inviting someone over who would otherwise be alone. The simple act of reaching out is one of the best returns on investment to be found.
Here are three ways that being generous this season can benefit you:
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Studies show that being generous lowers blood pressure by as much as 40%. It lowers stress, reduces anxiety and depression, decreases stomach acid, lowers cholesterol levels, and increases immunoglobulin A, a powerful immune system booster. In short, a giving heart is a healthier heart.
And if you're worried about getting dementia, it may surprise you to know that generosity reduces your risk. In fact, studies show that volunteering for just one hour a week makes you 2.5 times less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia than other people your age. It may be because generosity improves overall health or because socializing keeps neurons firing.
Finally, generous people who give of themselves live longer. A study from the University of Buffalo found that doing things as simple as babysitting for free or picking up groceries for someone is directly related to a longer life, probably because they buffer the association between stress and mortality. Another study followed 2,000 volunteers from Marin, California, each of whom volunteered for one or two causes they cared about. Researchers followed up for the next five years and found that the volunteers had a 63% lower mortality rate than those who did not volunteer.
Studies show that helping others activates a part of the brain called the mesolimbic pathway. Once that part of the brain is activated, the body releases chemicals, including dopamine, oxytocin (commonly referred to as the "tranquility hormone"), and endorphins. It's those endorphins that block pain signals and allow a generous person to better cope with physical ailments.
We've been socialized to believe that it's our achievements and our ability to purchase new things for ourselves that raise our level of satisfaction. But think about the last time you accomplished or bought something that you really wanted. For how long did your inner glow from that last? For how long were you happy? And how much did you have to dig into your savings?
According to researcher Christian Smith from the University of Notre Dame, the boost we receive from doing things for others is built into our neurochemistry. Furthermore, just thinking about this later can flood our bodies with those feel-good chemicals. It's the gift that keeps on giving.
On top of the emotional and health benefits of giving, it can impact your life in a number of other positive ways:
It's nearly impossible to surf the web, open a magazine, or tune into television this holiday season without being bombarded by ads for all the latest and greatest products you must purchase. Now may be a good time to remind yourself that, according to science, being happy is as simple as being generous toward those in need -- and it doesn't have to cost a dime. Unless of course you're donating money.
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