It’s been a rough few months in the United States. The election has divided not only our country but some families as well, leaving many feeling unsettled this holiday season.
But the truth is, there are positive things happening all around us. Generosity is stronger than ever. While 2015 was the nation’s most charitable year on record, 2016 looks like it may top even that.
And Americans are doing more than merely opening their pocketbooks. More and more young people in particular are signing up for volunteer service through programs like Americorps, giving back to our country and making a difference.
Science proves giving is good for you.
If you’ve been feeling down, giving may be the boost you need.
In a 2006 study, Jorge Moll, MD PhD, and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people make charitable donations, they experience the “‘warm glow’ (‘joy of giving’) effect, the rewarding experience associated with anonymous donations.”
According to the Greater Good Science Center, scientists have found that this kind of behavior releases endorphins in the brain, resulting in the good post-giving feeling known as “helper’s high.”
Giving can also promote social connection. Work by sociologists Brent Simpson and Robb Willer suggests that giving to another, it often leads to a reward (from that person or someone else) at some point in the future.
And having positive social interactions is vital to good health. It strengthens our ties to others and builds trust.
According to researcher John Cacioppo, author of Loneliness: Human Nature and the need for Social Connection, “The more extensive the reciprocal altruism born of social connection, the greater the advance toward health, wealth and happiness.”
Giving is good for both mental and physical health.
In early 2016, 40 studies on the effect of volunteering were reviewed and published in the Journal BMC Public Health.
The results were overwhelming. Based on the findings, not only does volunteering improve overall well-being and satisfaction with life, but it is also linked to decreased depression and a lower risk of early death. According to the review:
“Evidence suggested that volunteering may benefit mental health and survival.”
Giving is contagious.
The pay it forward movement proves that when you act generously, you can inspire others to follow suit.
According to research by James Fowler of the University of California, San Diego, and Nicholas Christakis of Harvard, published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, when one person shows generosity, others around him or her feel motivated to spread the generosity in future situations:
“As a result, each person in a network can influence dozens or even hundreds of people, some of whom he or she does not know or hasn’t met.”
Feel better and do good.
If you’re feeling down this holiday season, consider giving back. Volunteer at a food bank or a soup kitchen. Donate to a charity that makes a difference. Most importantly, do it with your family and show your children the value of giving.
In addition to helping others, you’ll be doing something positive for your family and yourself.