Can Giving Actually Improve Your Health?

Maylin Rodriguez-Paez, RN

We know that giving is good for your soul, but is it good for your body too?

As it turns out, giving can indeed benefit you both emotionally and physiologically.

During the holiday season, we tend to give an awful lot. Many of us shower our family, friends, and even our pets with gifts.

As you know, this can become quite expensive and, in many cases, even stressful. But, if done for the right reasons, your gift giving may come right back to you in the form of positive (yet) intangible benefits.

Below we’ll explain the science of giving and show you how it can reward your health in unexpected ways.

Giving is Linked to the Hormone Oxytocin

Scientists aren’t exactly sure why humans give, but they think it has something to do with oxytocin, the “love hormone.”

Oxytocin is released when a woman gives birth. It enhances the bonding between a mother and child and produces what can be best described as “warm and fuzzy” feelings. Apart from that, it also can alleviate depression and anxiety.1

To determine if oxytocin really influences giving, scientists divided a group of college students in two groups, with one group receiving oxytocin and the other a placebo.

They had each group play computer games where the participants could win money to donate to a charity.

At the end of the study, the researchers found that the oxytocin group donated 48% more money.2 Pretty interesting, isn’t it?

Giving Produces Feelings of Happiness

Giving makes people feel good, and science is finally starting to explain why this is the case.

MRI scans show that giving to a cause actually activates the dopaminergic region of the brain.2 This area is associated with rewards and feelings of pleasure.

In an interesting experiment, Harvard scientists gave people money to spend. One group was told to spend the money on themselves, and the other group was told to spend it on others.3

They found that people who spent their money on others felt happier at the end of the day.

Giving Can Actually Prolong Your Life

Giving is not just about donating money or goods; it can also be about donating your time.

In the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, scientists followed a group of women for 30 years. They documented their behaviors and health patterns and found that women who volunteered lived longer than their non-volunteering peers.4

In another study, scientists surveyed elderly residents living in California. High volunteers (those who participated in two organizations) had a 44% decreased risk of mortality compared to non-volunteers.4

Volunteers show significant benefits in measures of quality of life which include happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, depression, and even physical health.4

Giving your time and service has also been found to decrease stress hormone levels.3

The Bottom Line

So, is it truly better to give than to receive? It seems a bit cliché, but science suggests that the answer is yes!

Have you experienced this firsthand in your life? If so, please share your experiences with us in the comments!

References:

  1. Trends Neurosci. 2012 Nov;35(11):649-59. 
  2. Horm Behav. 2011 Jul;60(2):148-51.
  3. Anik, Lalin, Lara B. Aknin, Michael I. Norton, and Elizabeth W. Dunn. "Feeling Good about Giving: The Benefits (and Costs) of Self-Interested Charitable Behavior." Harvard Business School Working Paper, No. 10–012, August 2009.
  4. Available at http://www.ssc.wisc.edu/wlsresearch/publications/files/_private/Piliavin-Siegl_Health.Benefits.of.Volunteering.in.the.Wisconsin.Longitudinal.Study.pdf. Accessed November 26, 2012.

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8 comments:

Anonymous said...

I advertised my old TV and set top box FREE on the Community Centre noticeboard. The woman who came and got them was so ecstatic and said she felt like she'd been given a gift from Heaven. I was high all day. Seeing her SO happy from a gift out of the blue was such a buzz.

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - That's excellent! Thanks for sharing your experience with us.

Anonymous said...

I firmly believe that giving strengthens one's health. I have not had so much as a cold for years and years. It is because I give. Isaiah 58: 6--11 explains it all. The first time I read this passage it hit me with the shock of recognition.

Stuart

LifeExtension said...

Anonymous - There's no denying the power of giving! Thanks for reading.

Nick Sandrews said...

I strongly believe in giving, because I like to help who are in need and you really enjoy the power.

Anonymous said...

Karma - do good and good things will happen...

Shannon Kelly said...

I recently joined a Health & Wellness Volunteer Group through my church, Joel Osteen Ministries ~ have felt so many wonderful feelings it's incredible!! This is a great article, even reading it provided many positive 'love hormones' and happy feelings!

Life Extension said...

Shannon Kelly - That's awesome Shannon! Giving back to the community can give us a natural high. We're just built that way. :-)

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