Why Getting in the Holiday Spirit Is Good for Your Health

posted: 12/03/15
by: Mara Betsch

Long lines, cranky kids, and insane mall traffic may have you feeling a little grinchy this holiday season. Your mother would probably say "remember the reason for the season," and she'd be right. Showing a little generosity can actually improve both your mental and physical wellbeing. Here are just a few ways that giving your time (or your money) can literally boost your health.

It boosts feel-good chemicals

Being philanthropic has been shown to release so-called "happiness" chemicals which include dopamine, endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria, and oxytocin, which is associated with serenity and connectedness to others. This release of chemicals may cause people to be more generous, and, according to a 2007 study, pay it forward. Volunteers in this study were given oxytocin or a placebo injection and then given $10, which they could choose to keep or split with another participant. Those who had the dose of oxytocin were 80 percent more generous.

It lowers your risk of stress-related conditions

Giving back may lower your blood pressure and prevent cardiovascular disease. Why? Volunteering has been shown to reduce stress (and the stress hormone cortisol), which has been known to be a cause of several chronic conditions. A 2013 study in the American Journal of Public Health studied more than 800 participants and found that the do-gooders of the group seemed to see a big benefit. There was no link between stressful events and the volunteering group's mortality whereas their stingy counterparts had a 30 percent higher risk of dying if they reported a stressful event.

It protects your mental health

Thinking of others, instead of dwelling on your own problems, has been shown to improve mood and prevent cognitive decline. Especially for senior citizens, volunteering had been linked to a reduced risk of dementia and depression.

It will make you happy

When you volunteer or do something philanthropic, the pleasure centers in your brain are activated, according to a 2007 study. Researchers looked at brain scans of volunteers who received $100 and were either required to or voluntarily transfer money to a local food bank. "To economists, the surprising thing about this paper is that we actually see people getting rewards as they give up money," said Dr. William T. Harbaugh, first author of the study, in a press release. "On top of that, people experience even more brain activation when they give voluntarily."

It'll help your relationship

In 2011, the University of Virginia's National Marriage Project studied the role of generosity in the marriages of 2,870 men and women. Generosity could be anything from making your spouse coffee in the morning to letting a spouse sleep in while you watch the kids, or, better yet, volunteering with your partner. Unsurprisingly, there was a correlation between generosity and happy marriages. Those with more altruistic partners were more likely to report they were "very happy" in their marriages, but only 14 percent of those who had lower generosity scores reported being "very happy." Are you in a generous relationship? Take this quiz to find out!.

So take a little time to volunteer for or donate to a worthy cause this season. If you need inspiration, Give a Little TLC has some easy ways for you to donate both time and money.