Published in: Banks | Nov. 9, 2019

The Advantages of Being Generous This Holiday Season

By:  Dana George

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Looking for a way to help others while making yourself feel great? Here's how you can. 

What happens when someone mentions the upcoming holidays? Do you experience a sense of warmth, remembering past holidays? Do you shudder, remembering past holidays? Do you automatically think of the 1,000 things you must do before you can celebrate properly?

No matter how you feel about the holidays, there is one sure way to make them work for you -- by practicing generosity. It doesn't matter what you do, whether it's buying toys for kids whose parents can't afford them, visiting neighborhood shut-ins, delivering goods to a food bank, or inviting someone over who would otherwise be alone. The simple act of reaching out is one of the best returns on investment to be found.

A pair of hands raising forth a small-scale model of planet Earth.

Image source: Getty Images

Here are three ways that being generous this season can benefit you:

1. Generosity makes you healthier

Studies show that being generous lowers blood pressure by as much as 40%. It lowers stress, reduces anxiety and depression, decreases stomach acid, lowers cholesterol levels, and increases immunoglobulin A, a powerful immune system booster. In short, a giving heart is a healthier heart.  

And if you're worried about getting dementia, it may surprise you to know that generosity reduces your risk. In fact, studies show that volunteering for just one hour a week makes you 2.5 times less likely to be diagnosed with Alzheimer's or other forms of dementia than other people your age. It may be because generosity improves overall health or because socializing keeps neurons firing.

Finally, generous people who give of themselves live longer. A study from the University of Buffalo found that doing things as simple as babysitting for free or picking up groceries for someone is directly related to a longer life, probably because they buffer the association between stress and mortality. Another study followed 2,000 volunteers from Marin, California, each of whom volunteered for one or two causes they cared about. Researchers followed up for the next five years and found that the volunteers had a 63% lower mortality rate than those who did not volunteer.

2. Generosity makes you happier

Studies show that helping others activates a part of the brain called the mesolimbic pathway. Once that part of the brain is activated, the body releases chemicals, including dopamine, oxytocin (commonly referred to as the "tranquility hormone"), and endorphins. It's those endorphins that block pain signals and allow a generous person to better cope with physical ailments.

We've been socialized to believe that it's our achievements and our ability to purchase new things for ourselves that raise our level of satisfaction. But think about the last time you accomplished or bought something that you really wanted. For how long did your inner glow from that last? For how long were you happy? And how much did you have to dig into your savings?

According to researcher Christian Smith from the University of Notre Dame, the boost we receive from doing things for others is built into our neurochemistry. Furthermore, just thinking about this later can flood our bodies with those feel-good chemicals. It's the gift that keeps on giving.

3. Generosity offers practical benefits

On top of the emotional and health benefits of giving, it can impact your life in a number of other positive ways:

  • Generosity often takes you outside your bubble -- to meet people you would not otherwise meet. It creates emotional connections that you would not have otherwise experienced and gives your life greater meaning.
  • Being generous makes you more confident. There is an array of books that promise to help readers become more confident, but generous people know something other people don't: Confidence is not about being superior to anyone. It's about making the world a better place.
  • Generosity naturally carries into other areas of your life. Once you know how good it feels to give of yourself, you are likely to find it bleeding over into your personal relationships and job. The simple act of seeing a situation from your partner's perspective or lending a helping hand to a co-worker even when you have your own work to get done feels good. It also makes you a better partner and co-worker.
  • Giving to someone you don't know reminds them that they matter. It may only be money or a bit of time you donated, but your actions can provide a powerful message of hope to someone in need.
  • Most volunteer organizations could not keep their doors open without the support of benefactors. Large or small, every bit given helps. 
  • And don't forget that donations are tax deductible. It may be the last thing on your mind as you put your savings towards a worthy cause, but the IRS gives you a break for being charitable. Generally, the deduction is up to 50% of adjusted gross income. 

It's nearly impossible to surf the web, open a magazine, or tune into television this holiday season without being bombarded by ads for all the latest and greatest products you must purchase. Now may be a good time to remind yourself that, according to science, being happy is as simple as being generous toward those in need -- and it doesn't have to cost a dime. Unless of course you're donating money.

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