"In giving, mind transforms the gift and the gift transforms the mind." ~ Zen Master Dogen
One of the best lessons I learned growing up is the importance of giving some of what you have to those in need. Every year around Christmas, my father would give me $100 to donate to the charity of my choosing. I remember the excitement of going into an animal shelter or soup kitchen and handing the check over to a tired volunteer. I can still vividly recall the smiles that would spread across their faces, as well as the sense of peace I had leaving, knowing my effort would make a difference (no matter how small).
These moments taught me that one person can change the world, and I knew from that point on that I would never stop trying. So if you’re feeling stressed or overwhelmed, take a moment to remember all of the blessings you have, and consider giving some of what you have to others; it could make a huge impact in your life and in the lives of others.
The benefits of giving are numerous. Giving has been scientifically proven to decrease depression, improve longevity, and foster social connections that can lead to better quality of life. No matter how little you have to give, even a few dollars can make a huge difference in the lives of people in need. Discover the top ways that volunteering can benefit you and others:
Giving can improve your mood and help relieve stress that tends to build over time. One of the major ways that giving impacts your mood is by fostering gratitude in your life. In fact, “Barbara Fredrickson, a pioneering happiness researcher, suggests that cultivating gratitude in everyday life is one of the keys to increasing personal happiness.” In her book Positivity, she writes that “When you express your gratitude in words or actions, you not only boost your own positivity but [other people’s] as well.” So it’s really no wonder that you feel better and more motivated after volunteering. The energy you put out into the world is reciprocated, leaving you feeling refreshed and grateful for all of the wonderful things you have.
Giving has also been proven to improve your health and increase your overall quality of life. According to good sources, “A wide range of research has linked different forms of generosity to better health, even among the sick and elderly.” So consider making volunteering a family event, and get grandparents and grandchildren alike involved in activities that make a difference. In addition to improving their mood, volunteering may also help aging relatives remain healthier for longer. “A 1999 study led by Doug Oman of the University of California, Berkeley, found that elderly people who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than were non-volunteers.” If longevity isn’t a great reason to volunteer this season, I don’t know what is! Get out there and give back to the community in some tangible way. It isn’t all about donating money, either; many organizations would simply be happy for your participation and support.
Last but not least, giving has been proven to foster social connections that are beneficial to all parties involved. Whether you are serving food at a local soup kitchen or cleaning up a park with fellow volunteers, “These exchanges promote a sense of trust and cooperation that strengthens our ties to others—and research has shown that having positive social interactions is central to good mental and physical health.” Elderly isolation can be a major concern, and volunteering can relieve this by sparking friendships that help elders feel more socially connected.
What’s more, giving can improve our opinions of others and coincidentally make us feel better about ourselves. “When we give to others, we don’t only make them feel closer to us; we also feel closer to them.” Writer Sonja Lyubomirsky writes in her book The How of Happiness, “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably.” This creates a positive feedback loop, in which the volunteering community supports one another and perceives everyone in their best light.
As far as the science behind it goes, “Giving has also been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone...that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others.” It’s clear that the benefits of giving are numerous and long-lasting. So make it a part of your to-do list this season, and share the experience of giving with other family members. They’ll appreciate the chance to spend some time together, and most likely leave feeling joyful and blessed.
Susan Sarandon once said, "Everyone has a responsibility towards this larger family of man, but especially if you're privileged, that increases your responsibility." And I believe this to be true. If you are lucky enough to have a home, a good job, and food on your dinner table, you also have a moral responsibility to help those who are less fortunate. So consider donating to a charity or volunteering locally. Even a little bit of effort can make a huge difference in the lives of others.
Unsure where to start? This website helps you understand how trustworthy charities are with their money, and how much of your donation actually goes to the people in need: http://www.charitynavigator.org/
Take some time this winter to give back to your community. Chances are, it will not only spread love to those in need, but also improve your overall quality of life and lead to better health down the road. So show your generous side and reap the bountiful benefits!