How the ‘Season of Giving’ Can Translate to Improved Wellbeing
We all feel a little more generous around the holidays—after all, the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas is often referred to as “the season of giving.”
But why does giving—whether of our time or our money—feel so good? Turns out, there are scientific reasons, and those reasons are strong enough to make it worthwhile to consider extending that generosity to a year-round effort.
Giving can give one a sense of purpose, which is a Blue Zones Project Power 9 tenet. The Blue Zones Project is a look at nine concepts that are common among people that live to be at least 100 years of age.
The health benefits to being generous are numerous. For instance, it can keep stress levels in check. A study by social psychologist Liz Dunn found that participants who were less generous had higher levels of cortisol—a stress hormone. Chronically high levels of stress can be detrimental to health.
A University of Wisconsin-Madison study found that altruism has a great deal to do with how happy we are throughout life.
“More and more research illustrates the power of altruism,” says professor Donald Moynihan, who co-authored the study.
And economists have also found that charitable giving and altruism helps keep us healthy.
In a study about tax subsidies for charitable giving, Baris K. Yörük, an associate professor of economics at the University at Albany-SUNY, found that incentives like tax breaks for charitable giving also improved health outcomes, since people were more likely to give because of them.
“I find the probability of reporting better health goes up as the tax subsidy for charitable giving increases,” Yörük tells The Wall Street Journal. “Tax subsidies have a statistically significant impact on lung disease, arthritis and emotional disorders.”
Unselfish giving can also add years to your life, University of Buffalo researchers found. According to their study, helping others in ways large and small reduced early death.
Professor Michael J. Poulin, Ph.D., says their study helps doctors and the public understand “how giving assistance to others may offer health benefits to the giver by buffering the negative effects of stress.”
A study in BMC Public Health agrees with those findings. Researchers found that volunteering improves wellbeing, happiness, and is linked with decreased depression and lower incidence of early mortality.
Melita Hines, who volunteers in the gift shop at Texas Health Harris Methodist-Cleburne, says she volunteers to feel useful.
“I’ve been volunteering for more than four years,” she says. “I am not working, and I can be useful with my time here.”
Hines says that as a girl in the Philippines, she was frequently visiting hospitals, since both parents were health care providers. Volunteering reminds her of home.
“I wanted to volunteer at a hospital when I was new here,” she says. “It reminds me of my parents, who both worked in the hospital. My father was a doctor, and my mom was a nurse. They brought me to the hospital when I was a little kid.”
Hines says she typically works in the gift shop for about four to five hours a shift, at least once a week.
“When I get home, I’m really tired—but I don’t ever regret it,” she says. “My husband will ask me, ‘How was your day?’ and I always say, ‘Good!’
“I just don’t see a reason why I should stop volunteering. I feel like even in the little ways I can help patients and other hospital guests, it gives me a sense of fulfillment. And working with the other volunteers, it’s good for me. And I think when we all interact it’s good for them, too.”
Hines says she believes in the benefits of volunteering so much that she is hopeful that others will look for volunteer opportunities.
“I hope there will be more that will volunteer after they read this blog,” she says, chuckling. “There are so many interesting places you can work in a hospital—you should try it.”
Interested in volunteering at a nearby Texas Health facility? Visit TexasHealth.org/Volunteer to learn about opportunities across the system.