Although not officially recognized by the U.S. government, December has long been considered the Month of Giving, with its plethora of religious holidays focused on presents for loved ones. Charitable donations, too, are at a high in the final month of the year: 31% of giving each year occurs in December, with 12% in the last three days alone.
Peter Fissinger, chair of The Giving Institute, claims there were “signs that Americans helped their neighbors in myriad ways in 2021 that reflect the breadth and depth of their generosity.” Some of this may have been out of pure altruism, but some may also be attributable to the numerous valuable personal rewards associated with donating your time and resources.
For example, the theory of “warm glow” altruism recognizes that charity just feels good. Dr. Stephen G. Post, founding director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University, explains this idea. Philanthropic action “doles out several different happiness chemicals, including dopamine, endorphins that give people a sense of euphoria, and oxytocin, which is associated with tranquility, serenity, or inner peace,” he said.
Plus, giving is associated with more self-confidence. “Generosity is both a natural confidence builder and a natural repellant of self-hatred,” said Lisa Firestone, Ph.D. “When we see someone else benefiting from our kind actions, for instance, it is hard for the inner voice to argue that we are worthless.”
Contributing to a person or cause may also give us a sense of purpose. A study published in “Sleep, Science and Practice” linked meaning in life to better sleep quality and other cognitive benefits. Numerous other researchers have examined the connection between giving and happiness. A “Science” study found that spending money on others positively impacts the giver’s bliss, while spending on oneself does not.
Likewise, “if you are a recipient of a good deed, you may have momentary happiness, but your long-term happiness is higher if you are the giver,” said Professor Dan Ariely from Duke University.
A key component of altruism is that it actively creates social connections. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics found that high school students who gave their time by volunteering felt more connected. They “not only help others but also benefit themselves,” the study deduces.
In “The How of Happiness,” author Sonja Lyubomirsky comes to the same conclusion. “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably … this fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community,” she said.
Giving is also associated with a wide range of health benefits for the giver. A commonly cited result is lower blood pressure.
A study published in “Health Psychology” found that “participants who were assigned to spend money on others for three consecutive weeks subsequently exhibited lower systolic and diastolic blood pressure compared to participants assigned to spend money on themselves.” The effects were similar to those derived from exercise or antihypertensive medication.
Likewise, a study published in the “American Journal of Lifestyle Medicine” found that kind and prosocial behavior can lower stress and inflammation. According to the Post, “if you could create a pill with the same results as indicated by the survey of American volunteers, it would be a best seller overnight.”
Kindness is also associated with a longer life. A five-year study of people living in Detroit, MI, published in the “American Journal of Public Health” came to this conclusion. “When dealing with stressful situations, those who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die than those who had not helped others,” said Michael Poulin, study leader and assistant professor of psychology.
Another five-year study of older couples from the University of Michigan found that those who did not help others were two times more likely to die. Lead author Stephanie Brown said that while “there is evidence to suggest that individuals with a ‘fighting spirit’ survive longer with cancer than individuals who feel helpless or less optimistic about their chances for survival … it seems that the same may be true of a ‘giving spirit.'”