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The Psychological Benefits of Giving

The old adage it’s better to give than to receive has been around a long time, but is there any truth to it?

When asked, it’s easy to think that receiving is better than giving since you’re the one actually benefiting, but is this accurate?

It turns out that it’s not.

When it comes to giving or receiving, science has found that both parties receive benefits.

In this guide you’ll learn a number of positive psychological benefits to giving that would make even Ebenezer Scrooge rethink their relationship with giving and receiving.

Benefit #1: Makes You Happier

There aren’t many things in life more important than one’s happiness. It’s what a lot of us chase on a daily basis.

That being on the receiving end of a gift could make you happy is a no brainer, but did you know that giving also makes you happy?

Scientists at Harvard University have recently conducted studies that have found that happiness can be found by spending money on others.

While most people consider money to be essential to be happy, scientists have been puzzled by the regular findings that, past a certain level of income, money doesn’t seem to be linked to happiness.

But is that the full story? Is it that extra money doesn’t bring extra happiness? Or is it just how you spend that money?

That’s what the scientists at Harvard wanted to find out.

They first conducted a survey on people to figure out how they spent their money and what the resulting level of happiness.

It turned out that people who spent more money on other people rather than themselves were much happier.

This interested scientists, but it only showed a correlational link; perhaps happier people are more likely to go and spend money on others?

The scientists involved wanted to find a causal link.

In another study, they looked at a number of employees who received a bonus of around $5,000.

Before they received their bonus they had their happiness levels measured. Afterwards they did the test again and were surveyed about how they spent the money.

Researchers found that the size of the bonus didn’t affect happiness scores; whether someone got $3,000 or $8,000 the feelings of happiness were the same.

What did change the happiness levels was how the bonus was spent. People who spent more of their bonus money on others had a greater increase in happiness. 

Might be something to consider next time you come into a bit of bonus cash.

Benefit #2: Lower Risk of Depression

Depression is something that more and more people are aware of and the effects can be debilitating.

So if there was something that lowered your risk of developing depression it would be good to know.

One study took a group of people and split them into two; one group would do things that they wanted, while others were told to go and help their loved ones.

Over time the two groups were analysed and it would found that those who spent more time helping their loved ones were much less likely to develop depression later on.

Further studies are investigating this to see whether it can be replicated, but the idea that helping others can make you psychologically healthier isn’t far fetched.

Most people, given the choice, would sooner do something to help themselves, but if you’re given the opportunity then perhaps it’s wise to spend more time helping others.

Benefit #3: Smaller Waistline

In another study, researchers wanted to see if volunteering had any effects on health markers such as cholesterol and body mass index (BMI).

So they gathered 100 university students and surveyed them on how they spent their time.

What they were looking for was how much time these students spent volunteering compared with other more selfish tasks.

They found that students who regularly volunteered with various organisations had lower cholesterol levels and had lower BMIs.

This suggests that giving up your time to help worthy causes could have positive effects on your health. Perhaps spending your time on a worthy cause makes you feel better, which makes you more likely to make healthy lifestyle choices.

Benefit #4: Longer Life

If slimming down wasn’t motivation enough to start giving more, then perhaps living longer could be?

In another study, researchers wanted to see if giving time would help people live longer.

So they took a group of people who suffered from heart disease and measured how much time these people spent volunteering.

It turns out that the people who spent more time volunteering also lived longer and had fewer instances of heart attacks.

So giving might not only make you happier and slimmer, it could very well keep you alive for longer.

Benefit #5: Decreases Stress

Giving is also thought to decrease stress. In another study, people who were regular volunteers were studied to see if there were any differences compared with people who do not give up their time regularly.

What they found was that those who volunteered regularly had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t.

This is thought to be a result of lower stress.

So if you’re suffering from chronic stress as a result of a busy, modern, lifestyle, then finding some time to give for a worthy cause could be beneficial for you.

Giving is Contagious

Another interesting finding in the literature on giving is that giving tends to be contagious.

John Fowler at the University of California found that giving tends to result in more giving and that it works in two different ways.

First, once someone starts to give, the chances are that they’ll continue to give.

Second, has had a good deed done to them, the chances of them doing a good deed for someone else increase as well.

This suggests that giving even a little can result in a lot of giving down the track. So even if you’re unable to give a lot, just do what you can and things should work out for the best.

Chances are you’ll find yourself doing more over time and every time you do something good, there’s an increased chance that the recipient will pass on the good deed and do something for someone else down the track.

Is Giving Good for your Health?

Yes, giving is absolutely good for your health.

Although it’s not obvious, there are lots of health benefits. People who give regularly report having a greater sense of purpose in their lives, which leads to better self-esteem.

People who give and receive social support both report lower negative psychosocial outcomes, but the effect is much bigger for people who give more than they get.

Giving can also help people suffering from chronic illnesses such as HIV. Not that it can help treat their illness, but that it can put them in a better place psychologically, which in turn leads them to make better decisions regarding their overall health.

Why does Giving Make You Happy?

It’s not entirely clear why giving makes you happy (beyond the obvious anyway).

One thing scientists have found is that giving is related to oxytocin, which is one of the “feel good” chemicals.

But regardless of the reasons why it makes you happy, the fact is that giving is likely to make you feel good, so keep on doing it!

Opportunities for Giving

If you’re interested in making giving a more regular part of your life, there are plenty of ways you can do it. Below you’ll find some of the more popular and rewarding ways.

If you’re interested in keeping your local neighbourhood safe, then you might want to consider joining your local Neighbourhood Watch. Here are the links you’ll need in NSW and Victoria:

Neighbourhood Watch NSW

Neighbourhood Watch Victoria

Giving to charities (whether it’s money or offering your time) is another rewarding way to help out a certain group in need.

There’s no shortage of charities in the world, so if you want to help charities out, you’ll want to do a bit of research to figure out which ones are right for you.

A couple of sites that might be helpful here are:

Australian Charity Guide

Australian Charities and Not-for-Profits Commission

Another popular way to give is to mentor someone young. There are a few organisations in Australia that facilitate the mentoring process and here are a few of the more popular ones:

Raise

SHINE for Kids

Big Brothers Big Sisters Australia

If none of these tickle your fancy, then consider adding some random acts of kindness to your life. They don’t have to be massive undertakings to have positive benefits for both you and the recipient.

Consider writing a letter to your gran, find a local community project to work on, send someone flowers or help an elderly neighbour out with some chores.

Conclusion

If you’ve found some benefits from giving, tell us about them in the comments below.

What did you do?

How did you benefit from it?

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