(credit: shutterstock)

(credit: shutterstock)

A simple act of giving may be doing more for your health than you know. Giving to others, either through a well-thought-out present, act of kindness or charitable contribution, has been shown in multiple studies to boost the immune system, releasing feel-good endorphins and bringing about feelings of well-being and happiness. The “Greed is Good” speech immortalized on the silver screen in “Wall Street” may have rung true for some, but it turns out your mother, not Gordon Gekko, had it right. It is better to give than to receive. Here’s why.


Giving May Prolong Your Own Life
It may sound dramatic, but a 1999 study led by Doug Oman at the University of California at Berkeley showed improvements in longevity among elderly individuals who spent at least some of their time volunteering for causes. The study, which was controlled for over-all health and lifestyle habits like exercising and smoking, found a significantly higher mortality rate for non-volunteers than for their altruistic counterparts. The exact mechanism for why this phenomenon exists is unclear, but the stress reduction associated with giving of oneself, and an increase in social interactions and connectedness, appear to be part of the picture.
Give and You Shall Receive
Giving in order to get something in return is a strategy bound to backfire, but research does indicate that what goes around comes around. A sociological study led by Brent Simpson and Robb Willer shows a significant link between altruistic behavior and subsequent rewards, either from the initial recipient or by others. Perhaps those willing to live their lives by doing good deeds and supporting charitable works simply place themselves in line to benefit long-term, via the level of interactions they sustain with other, like-minded people, or via the increase in quality of life they create for themselves.
Don’t Worry, Be Happy
Fretting over things we cannot control, from weather to war, exacerbates stress and increases production of feel-bad hormones, like cortisol, adrenalin and norepinephrine, in our bodies. When we turn our worry into positive action instead, either by making a financial contribution to an organization focused on solving a problem or via our own activism, we not only turn off the stress response but also empower ourselves, leading to feelings of happiness, well-being and control.
Then There’s That Whole Changing the World Thing
Most of us are truly motivated by doing good, whether it is through taking care of our kids, volunteering at a soup kitchen or contributing to a charity we are passionate about. A day that includes giving usually leaves us feeling better about ourselves, which may, in turn, increase our health and therefore, our appearance. Good deeds also seem to be contagious, upping not only our own health and happiness, but that of others as well. And for those who live a life of giving, that may just be the point.


Corey Whelan is a freelance writer in New York. Her work can be found at Examiner.com.


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