5 Ways Giving Makes You Happier and Healthier

By Alison Bell

DSC_0035If you have a few extra dollars to spend, you might figure you’d be happier treating yourself to a dinner out or a new shirt. Not true, research shows.  People who give to others rather than spend all their money on themselves are actually happier. In addition, studies also prove that there are many other advantages of giving on our psyche and our health.

With Thanksgiving the day after tomorrow, it is the season for giving thanks.  This time of year is also the season to give back.  During this time of year there are more opportunities than ever to remember those less fortunate than us.  For example, Hillsides is currently running a #GivingTuesday  campaign to help furnish the cottages where the children live with new furniture to help them help them have happy and cozy holidays.  A donation of any size goes a long way in making their cottages more attractive and boosting the children’s sense of security and comfort.

Just how good is giving for us?  Here’s what current studies are showing.  Giving…

  • Boosts happiness.  Three separate studies by Harvard Business School professor Michael I. Norton and his colleagues revealed that it’s not how much you make, it’s how you spend it than brings you joy.  They also found people are happier if they give some of their money away. One study showed that spending as little as $5 over the course of a day on another person led to demonstrable increases in happiness. In addition, studies run in both Canada and Uganda have produced results that giving increases a sense of well-being, suggesting this is an innate human response that transcends culture and place.
  • Activates the feel-good part of your brain. In research published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, people had the option to either donate money to a charity or take a pay out.  Surprisingly, researchers witnessed a similar pattern of brain activity whether or not the subjects decided to keep the money or give it away.  Both behaviors activated the midbrain, the part of the brain that is associated with basic desires, such as an appetite for food, revealing how giving is hard-wired into our brains to give us pleasure.
  • Produces “happiness” chemicals. Research has shown that helping others causes our bodies to produce dopamine, endorphins that block pain signals and oxytocin, known as the tranquility hormone.  Oxytocin is also a bonding hormone, thought to be responsible for new mother attaching to their babies. Even just thinking about donating to a specific charity produces these chemicals, studies show.
  • Lowers your blood pressure. Elizabeth Dunn, a psychology professor at the University of British Columbia in Canada,measured people’s blood pressure before and after giving.  She discovered that blood pressure fell  when people gave significantly to other people or causes, but did not change when they spent money on themselves.   When the cause was near and dear to the giver’s heart, these results were even greater.
  • Decrease stress. Dunn’s research also shows that when people don’t give, they feel shame.  She found this out when she ran an experiment where she and fellow researchers gave people $10 and let them decide whether to spend it on themselves or give it away.  Those who kept the dollars for themselves reported feeling ashamed. The greater the shame, the more a person’s cortisol levels rose. Cortisol is known as the “stress” hormone, and elevated levels over time may lead to disease. So the next time you generously donate money, you may be actually even extending your life!

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