Giving is receiving

There’s no question that when we give to others – whether it’s our time, charitable donations, or gifts – we feel good. Sometimes it’s anticipation and joy as we watch someone open his or her gift, or it can be pride or the sense of self-satisfaction we experience when supporting a charity, organization or cause we believe is important. Whatever our reason for giving to others, it feels good – and it’s good for us!

Beyond anecdotal evidence and the hard to measure “warm fuzzy feelings” we derive from acts of kindness and sharing, medical research indicates that giving is good for the giver’s physical and mental health. Giving reduces stress, which can lower blood pressure. Other health benefits associated with giving include increased self-esteem, reduced depression, and increased happiness – all gifts that can result in a longer, healthier life.

According to a 2006 study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, people who gave social support to others had lower blood pressure than people who didn’t. Supportive interaction with others also helped people recover from coronary-related events. The same study also found that people who gave their time to help others through community and organizational involvement had greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than those who didn’t.

In another 2006 study, researchers from the National Institutes of Health studied the functional MRIs of subjects who gave to various charities. They found that giving stimulates the mesolimbic pathway, which is the reward center in the brain, releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the “helper’s high.” That reaction, like other “feel-good” chemical catalysts, also is addictive – but it’s an addiction that’s good for us!

Overall, studies prove that giving affects us biologically, activating regions in the brain associated with pleasure, connection with other people and trust. According to a 1999 University of California, Berkeley, study, people who were 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn’t volunteer – even accounting for many other factors including age, exercise, general health and negative habits like smoking. And in a 2003 University of Michigan study, a researcher found similar numbers in studying elderly people who gave help to friends, relatives and neighbors – or who gave emotional support to their spouses – versus those who didn’t.

Whether we’re on the giving or receiving end of a gift, that gift can elicit feelings of gratitude – and research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds. And if that isn’t enough to further motivate us, when we give, we’re more likely to get back: Studies suggest that when we give to others, our generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line – sometimes by the person we gave to, sometimes by someone else. Additionally, the organizations we support help others, who then “pay it forward.”  These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthen our ties, and research has shown that having positive social interactions also is central to good mental and physical health.

So when it comes to giving, there’s no apparent “down side.” Give often and give generously – whether time, a helping hand or charitable donations – and reap the many interpersonal and health rewards that come from “doing good” and from sharing.

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Be sure to check out the CBIA Healthy Connections wellness program at your company’s next renewal. It’s free as part of your participation in CBIA Health Connections!