Jesus wasn’t far off when he said, “It is better to give than to receive.” Neither was Mahatma Gandhi when he said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”
With the holiday season just around the corner, we can feel the spirit of giving in the air. We give gifts to our friends and family members as we celebrate the season, and sometimes we also give time to charities we’re passionate about. Both can be demanding and stressful, but studies attest to the benefits of giving.
Research has proven the health benefits – both mentally and physically – of giving to others. Studies have shown that giving promotes cooperation and social connection. And others prove that giving is contagious and provokes gratitude.
But perhaps the simplest and most effective benefit of giving is that it makes you happy.
Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and his colleagues conducted a study in which participants predicted that spending money on themselves would make them happier than spending it on others. However, their findings proved the exact opposite – their spirits were lifted after giving money to someone else.
Similarly, happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky, conducted a study in which participants were asked to perform five acts of kindness each week for six weeks. She had similar results to Norton’s study – their happiness was lifted by doing nice things for others.
Another study conducted in 2006 by Jorge Moll and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Mental Health found that when people give to charities, it triggers regions of the brain linked to pleasure, social connections, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Many scientists also believe philanthropic actions release endorphins, producing positive feelings often referred to as “helper’s high.”
Often, people set aside extra time to volunteer at soup kitchens or other charities during the holiday season. Studies show that this is a great idea – Americans who describe themselves as “very happy” usually volunteer around five or six hours per month. Those who are unhappy generally volunteer for less than an hour each month.
Whether spending a little bit of extra money on a nice gift for your significant other, volunteering with an organization in your town, or generously donating to a charity of your choice, the holidays are a great time to experience full joy by giving generously.