Science has spoken: giving is good for you
Written by Nicolas Chenail

Monday, November 29th, 2021

We all know life can be tough sometimes. Just the other day, I saw a man going through a garbage container on my block, in search of a few cans. It made me want to help any way I could. I immediately grabbed our bag of empty cans, and handed it to him, along with a $20 bill.

I didn't know this man, I had never even seen him before, but he gave me one of those smiles you get from a family member or a close friend, all while thanking me about a dozen times.

I must admit, it made me feel really good. I went on with my day, but this feeling carried on.

Here are five ways giving improves our lives:

1. Being generous leads to a feeling of wellbeing for the donor

Right after the act of giving, people experience an increase in positive emotions. Think about it next time you want to shower yourself with treats after a bad day.

"As a therapist, I often find that clients with high anxiety or depression often experience a relief in their symptoms when they contribute to a cause that resonates for them," says Margo Varadi, a Registered Social Worker and therapist in Toronto. "The act of giving can make people feel good, and when people feel good, they are less tired, more physically and mentally energized."

2. Giving brings meaning and purpose

“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give," is a saying that's often attributed to Winston Churchill.

Giving makes us happier. It creates a lifting, "warm glow" effect.

According to an international study1, the act of giving increases life satisfaction as much as doubling your salary.

According to Varadi, a contributing factor to stress, depression and anxiety can be that people get caught up in their own realities or social pressures and lose sight of what matters to them on a deeper level.

"Many people live their lives in a state of distraction: working on screens, checking phones, listening to podcasts, watching Netflix, shopping and various daily chores. Many people are often not present, not really doing things they enjoy or value or even know what those things are. Eventually all these distractions become repetitive, can be consuming, exhausting and have a negative impact on mood," Varadi says.

"Focusing on someone else can be a reminder of what we value by improving our connection to others as well as ourselves. Establishing that connection to a greater good contributes to our purpose and perspective, encouraging us to be more present for joy and more resilience in the face of challenges."

3. Giving makes us feel richer

Giving to those who are less fortunate, can make us feel like we won the lottery.

We tend to take our good fortune for granted, until we're reminded that others aren't as fortunate. Instead of comparing ourselves to the Joneses, let's focus on those who are less fortunate than us. Being able to give is in itself a privilege.

4. Giving can be a form of medicine

Studies2 show that giving can potentially help relieve stress and ease pain.

"I do think 'giving' can be therapeutic," says Varadi. "In fact, one of the strategies we use for distress tolerance and crisis survival is contributing to others. Helping other people can help relieve stress or reduce pain in ourselves by offering a distraction from our own problems and our intolerance to perceived hardships. Part of what constitutes a problem is that we think of it as a problem by fixating on the negatives, thereby causing our distress. Giving to others can reduce negative thoughts and challenging emotions by increasing the positives and ultimately our mood."

5. Giving and living

According to studies done by the University of Michigan, the act of giving may even help extend your life expectancy.

Investing in others can slow down the aging of your cells. In fact, altruism affects our physical health on several levels, but it's at the immune and cellular levels that its effects have been most highlighted.

In the end, we're all short on time and, for many of us, on money. But let's remember that giving comes in many forms, all of which can be good for us.

1Aknin, L. B., Dunn, E. W., Whilans, A. V., Grant, A. M., & Norton, M. I. (2013). Making a difference matters: impact unlocks the emotional benefits of prosocial spending. Journal of Economic Behavior and Organization, 18, 90–95.

2 Antonucci, T.C. (1985). Personal characteristics, social support, and social behavior. In Binstock, R.H., Shanas, E. (Eds.), Handbook of aging and the social sciences (2nd ed., pp. 94–128). Princeton, NJ: Van Nostrand-Reinhold.Google Scholar

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