- The holiday season is a time of generosity. And while we all know that giving makes us feel good, did you know that it has a lot of health benefits too?
- Today, Alexander Green explains the importance of giving on your journey to a rich life.
A while back, I received a phone call from George Rupp.
At the time, Rupp was the president and CEO of the International Rescue Committee (IRC).
Founded by Albert Einstein, the IRC serves refugees and communities victimized by oppression or violent conflict. When thousands run from natural disasters, war or repression, the IRC is there, providing food, water, shelter, healthcare and education.
That year, I had sent my readers a letter reminding them how incredibly rich our lives are and asking them to remember the IRC, the world’s recognized leader in humanitarian emergencies.
I had never heard of George Rupp, however.
“I’m just calling to let you know how much you’ve inspired us – our whole organization – with your letter,” he said.
Embarrassed, I mumbled something in response.
“We’re planning to read it to Tom Brokaw and the other directors at the annual board meeting. We’d also like to turn it into a national fundraising letter. Would that be all right with you?”
All right? I felt like I’d just been injected with 100 milliliters of pure dopamine. I love the IRC. I love sharing its mission.
By the time I got off the phone, my wife said I was acting so goofy I might as well take the rest of the day off. When I walked outside, the sky was bluer, the neighbor’s dog was friendlier and the birds, I’m sure, were singing in counterpoint. It was a weird feeling.
But not unusual, perhaps. Studies have shown that we’re actually hardwired to feel good – and live longer – by helping others.
Dr. Stephen Post, founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine, says, “The remarkably good news is that, over the past 10 years, we have about 500 serious scientific studies that demonstrate the power of [generosity] to enhance health.”
You’ve always known that giving is its own reward. But science has discovered a slew of side benefits.
Here are just a few recent findings:
- Those who start giving in high school usually experience better physical and mental health over the next 50 years.
- Giving reduces mortality later in life too. People who volunteer for two or more organizations have a 44% lower likelihood of dying – and that’s after sifting out other significant factors like age, gender, marital status, frequency of exercise, smoking habits, etc.
- Giving generates a sense of inner freedom, serenity and peace that affect the quality of life.
- Giving reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk.
- Giving helps us forgive ourselves, promoting a sense of well-being and greater self-esteem.
- Giving reduces negative emotions – like spite, rage and envy – that contribute to stress-induced psychological and physical ailments.
- Columbia University psychologist Eva Midlarsky found that through giving we gain a greater sense of meaning in our lives, cope better with our own stress by shifting our focus to others, feel more socially connected, enjoy a greater sense of competence and effectiveness, and are more likely to live an active lifestyle.
Not bad. And there are many ways to give. Money, of course, is how most organizations get things done. But there are effective ways to donate your time as well:
- Volunteer. According to Doug Oman of the University of California at Berkeley, “Volunteering is associated with substantial reductions in mortality.”
- Create a network of giving. Find others who are isolated or ignored, and invite them to join you. Studies show that both of you are likely to benefit.
- Become a mentor. Nothing is more beneficial to the young than connecting with a caring adult who inspires them.
- Pass the torch. Older adults have accumulated a lifetime of wisdom and experience. Recognize your own value – and share it with others.
Biologist David Sloan Wilson says…
We have said since millennia – in fact, this has been a fundamental tenet of religion – that if you do good things, it will reflect back to you, not immediately, not every time, but in general. This is a deeply entrenched notion.
Now science is confirming it.
Giving is a simple act. Yet studies show that generous behavior may do more to protect and extend your health than vitamin supplements, green tea, fish oil or an aspirin a day.
Each of us is flawed in a hundred ways. But giving redeems us. It ennobles us. It helps us create a better version of ourselves.
In his book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Dr. Post writes…
You wish to be happy? Loved? Safe? Secure? You want to turn to others in tough times and count on them? You want the warmth of true connection? You’d like to walk into the world each day knowing that this is a place of benevolence and hope? Then I have one answer: Give. Give daily, in small ways, and you will be happier. Give, and you will be healthier. Give, and you will even live longer.
There are many worthy organizations that would welcome your time and money. To learn more about the fabulous work of the International Rescue Committee, visit rescue.org.