Christmas and the holiday season is upon us! It’s the ultimate season of giving. Did you know all that giving not only makes the receiver happy but is also a boon for your own physical, mental, and emotional health? It’s just another reason to indulge in the holiday spirit.
When we give of our time or resources, whether that’s volunteering, offering emotional support, or donating to charities, we’re flooding our brain with happiness chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. All of which contribute to the following health benefits:
- Lower blood pressure
- Increased self-esteem
- Less depression & anxiety
- Lower stress levels
- Longer life
- Reduced cardiovascular risk
- Greater happiness
According to Stephen G. Post, founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine in New York, “Volunteering moves people into the present and distracts the mind from the stresses and problems of the self. Many studies show that one of the best ways to deal with the hardships in life is not to just center on yourself but to take the opportunity to engage in simple acts of kindness.”
Why Giving is Beneficial
Francis of Assisi believed, “For it is in giving, that we receive.” If this notion and countless research is any indication, giving may just be the spice of life.
1. You’ll Feel Happier
When we give, it activates a region in the brain associated with pleasure. Imagine it like a warm glow emanating outwards.
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health examined MRIs of people who gave to various charities. They discovered that by giving, these people had stimulated their mesolimbic pathways, aka the reward center in their brains, thereby releasing wonderful “feel good” chemicals such as serotonin (a mood-mediating chemical), dopamine (a feel-good chemical), and oxytocin (a compassion and bonding chemical).
During gift-giving behavior, our brains experience a “helper’s high,” which motivates and encourages us to keep on giving because of how intrinsically happy it makes us feel.
2. It’s Good for Your Health
One of the primary reasons giving may improve physical health and longevity is it helps to decrease stress, which is related with a wide variety of health problems.
A study by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee, found that people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn’t. Therefore suggesting a direct physiological benefit to those who give of their time, resources, or abilities.
3. You’ll Live a More Gratitude-Filled Life
Gratitude is essential to happiness, health, and social bonds.
In Barbara Fredrickson’s book, Positivity, she explains, “When you express your gratitude in words or actions, you not only boost your own positivity but other people’s as well. And in the process you reinforce their kindness and strengthen your bond to one another”
Cultivating authentic gratitude in everyday life is one of the keys to personal happiness and satisfaction.
How to Encourage Giving & Volunteerism
Volunteering as we know is amazing for health, but it’s also a great opportunity for students to develop life skills. Encouraging your student to dive into volunteerism is an excellent way to push them outside their comfort zone, develop social awareness, learn new skills, and gain appreciation for their situation in life.
Now the question is how to motivate students to engage with volunteerism. The following are ways you can encourage and support them:
- Define the purpose: Knowing the real purpose of your actions is key to self-motivating.
- Allow Independence: Give them the opportunity to choose the charity or method of giving they’d like to participate in.
- Lead by Example: Take initiative yourself and volunteer together to show them how it all works, and how rewarding the experience can be.
- Provide Positive Feedback: Recognize their efforts with positive reinforcement. Verbally appreciate their work, and encourage them to continue making a difference.
Volunteer/Giving Opportunities in San Diego
There are endless ways you can support your community this holiday season, and every other month of the year. The following are some great resources to get started:
- Volunteermatch.org: Matches volunteers with nonprofits in their communities.
- Kids Helping Kids: List ways kids can help others.
- GenerationOn: Features ideas, projects, and resources to address issues like bullying, homelessness, and poverty.
Local Opportunities for the Holidays:
- Donate Holiday Baskets
- Holiday Magic for Kids
- Toys for Tots
- Feeding America SD
- Spirit of Sharing
- SD Food Bank