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How Charity Is Good for Your Health

We’ve all heard the adage: “It’s better to give than to receive.” But now studies back up that theory, finding that giving of your time and money boosts physical and mental health.

According to a study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology, people who gave social support to others experienced:

  • Lower blood pressure
  • Increased self-esteem
  • Less depression
  • Lower stress levels
  • Increased lifespan
  • Greater happiness

A University of California-Berkeley study found that participating in charitable endeavors is good for physical health and can lead to longer life. Researchers discovered that people 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn’t volunteer.

Emotional health is also positively impacted by philanthropy. Scientists at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, regions of the brain associated with pleasure and trust are activated, creating a “warm glow” of happiness. When they viewed the MRIs of subjects who practiced philanthropy, they found that giving stimulates the reward center in the brain, releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the “helper’s high.”

Here are some ways to get that “helper’s high” while doing good in the world:

  1. Donate a wrapped gift to a children’s charity during the holidays
  2. Bring non-perishable items to a local food bank
  3. Cook and/or serve a meal at a soup kitchen
  4. Donate your skills: Offer special talents—such as writing, photography, graphic design, etc.—to nonprofits and advocacy groups
  5. Shop smart: Look for businesses that donate a portion of their proceeds to charities
  6. Donate money to the charitable organization of your choice
  7. Organize a drive/raise funds: Whether it’s a food for a local food bank, a winter coat collection for a homeless shelter, or a fundraiser for charity, every little bit helps
  8. Donate blood to save a life
  9. Volunteer your time at a senior center or assisted living facility; the humane society or a dog/cat rescue organization; a homeless shelter; a senior center; a hospital or hospice facility; or Big Brother/Big Sister programs.

“There is no doubt that getting out of the house to volunteer in a way that encourages social interaction with others—even for just a few hours per month—can have positive benefits on mood, energy, and health,” says Dr. Lex Denysenko, Clinical Assistant Professor of Psychiatry & Human Behavior at Thomas Jefferson University Hospital.

When it comes to altruistic financial behavior (i.e. donating to charity or giving gifts to others), research suggest that giving makes people happy, and that happier people give more. But Dr. Denysenko stresses that the amount of money people spend on others may be less important in the long run than how often a person engages in the altruistic behavior.

While even very small monetary amounts appear to have positive benefits, Dr. Denysenko says that “performing frequent acts of kindness and generosity probably leads to more lasting health benefits than a one-time big gift.” And doing good often leads to more lasting benefits for everyone in the community by creating a positive feedback loop. “The more times people help others, the happier people will be, and since they are happier, they will help others more.”