Christmas and the holiday gift-giving season is derided for its commercialization, but it could be looked at a different way. What if we are shopping ’til we drop because we love the feeling of giving?
Scientific studies have shown that “helper’s high” — a feeling of empathy and love associated with giving — can lower your stress response (particularly important around the holiday season) and improve your immunity, according to an article on WebMD.
In fact, the calming of our stress that comes with giving could actually help us live longer, according to Stephen G. Post, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine who runs the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. Post tells WebMD that being stressed long term can make our cells susceptible to changes that can age us prematurely and shorten the end-caps of our genes, called telomeres. Shortened telomeres are associated with early death.
The University of Notre Dame has a research program on giving they call the Science of Generosity. They have found a strong relationship between giving (their focus is on charitable giving) and well-being like a sense of purpose, health, happiness and personal growth, as explained in a recent Vox article.
“The causal mechanisms we identify involve everything from reinforcing positive emotions to developing a sense of self-efficacy to expanding social networks to increasing physical activity. Generosity, for example, often triggers neurochemical systems that increase pleasure and reduce stress,” researchers Christian Smith and Hilary Davidson write.
These benefits can be reached through giving away income and gifts, though volunteering is another form of generosity. Giving physical objects does not have to be the only way we are generous with one another.
A 2013 study of marriages and generosity found — no surprise — that small acts of kindness, displays of respect and affection and forgiveness are associated with improved marital quality.
There’s no reason to stop giving after the holidays are over — keep it going! You could be getting healthier while you’re helping others.