Giving is better than receiving—but we’re not talking ethics. We’re talking in terms of its physical effects. It’s true. Giving has an amazingly powerful effect on our health, mood, and longevity. Check out some of the findings compiled by bioethicist Stephen Post, PhD, author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People, which you can also read more about it on his site:
- Giving in high school predicts good physical and mental health in late adulthood, a time interval of over 50 years.
- Giving significantly reduces mortality in later life. Doug Oman of the University of California at Berkeley, studied 2,000 individuals over age 55 were studied for five years. Those who volunteered for two or more organizations had an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying. The only activity that had a slightly higher effect was to stop smoking.
- Giving quells anxiety. Neal Krause of the University of Michigan followed 976 churchgoing adults over a period of three years. Offering social support to others reduced their anxiety over their own economic situation when they were under economic stress.
There’s no better time to take advantage of these benefits than during the season of giving. While you’ll obviously be giving gifts this time of year, there are some other even more powerful ways to give.
1. Perform a Random Act of Kindness
Easy one, right? But don’t underestimate the power of this simple act. When you do, you connect with someone, inspire more kindness, and enjoy a little hit of dopamine, too.
- Treat a friend. When you spring for the check, you’re investing in the relationship—and showing them that you value their company.
- Let someone cut you in line. Especially if she seems anxious or in a hurry.
- Leave a bigger tip than you usually would. Just because.
2. Be a Mentor
Giving your time and talents, sound advice, and your full attention are generous acts, and being a mentor combines all three.
- Take an interest in the new hires or interns at your company. They’re dying to get involved and could use a sounding board.
- Advocate for someone. A new talent in your field without your connections may have a hard time getting their foot in the door. Make a few recommendations on his or her behalf.
3. Show up
When no one seems to have time, your time and presence is the most thoughtful gift. You don’t have to make a huge entrance or big plans. Keep it simple.
- Accept an invite. Going to a party or other event isn’t just about face time; it communicates that these people matter.
- Be on time. If you make plans to be at a restaurant by noon, be there at 11:55. You show respect for the other person’s time—and arrive far less stressed.
4. Strategize Your Giving
While spontaneous giving is critical during crises, planning helps you maximize your efforts—especially this time of year.
- Decide who to support and why (as opposed to whomever happens to ask).
- Choose a donation strategy. What makes sense with your budget and interest: Is it $25 a month? One big annual gift each holiday season?
- Organize a group give. If you’d like to make an even bigger impact, rally a team to pursue a giving goal together, whether it’s helping out with a clothing drive or participating in Toys for Tots.
5. Think charitable thoughts
It’s true—just thinking about giving matters. As Post says on his site,
“The simple act of praying for others, Neal Krause found, reduces the harmful impact of health difficulties in old age for those doing the praying. Another study from the National Institutes of Health shows that merely making a decision to donate to a charity increases activity in parts of the brain that release our feel-good chemicals, dopamine and serotonin. And a new Harvard University study showed that just watching a movie of helping activity boosts the immune system.” (source: whygoodthingshappen.com)
So the next time you feel stress crowding out good thoughts, turn your attention to where you can give next—and shift your focus in a healthier, happier direction.
Terri Trespicio is a media personality, lifestyle expert, and coach. Visit her at territrespicio.com.