Monday, January 1, 2018

It’s Healthy to Give, and It Doesn’t Need to be Cash

Contributing Author: Alice Krueger

I don’t know many individuals or organizations that would turn down a gift of money, any time of year. It’s good to give. However, we don’t always have funds to spare for charity. There’s plenty you can offer that isn’t money, though. But why bother giving anything at all?

Giving, also known as altruistic spending, has positive effects on health. Researchers at the University of Notre Dame Science of Generosity Initiative wrote the book The Paradox of Generosity1 to share their findings. Americans who donated more than 10% of their incomes were less depressed than those who didn’t donate as much. Giving money does not even need to be to that high an extent to increase happiness. Research at the University of British Columbia2 showed that those who donated small amounts of money to charity or as a gift were happier than those who used the cash to pay a bill or buy themselves a small treat. A summary of research on altruism and health3 concluded there was a strong correlation between people’s health, happiness, well-being and longevity and their altruistic emotions and behaviors.

So, what can you give if you don’t have extra cash? Here are a few ideas.

• Donate through a company - Several companies will donate to a charity of your choice. The Amazon Smile program is one such. Amazon donates a small percentage of your purchase amount to your designated charity, and it does not cost you anything additional.
Some employers have a matching donation program. Check whether yours does by asking your HR Department.

• Give your time and genuine interest - Going out for coffee or lunch with a friend or work colleague makes both of you happier. Networking events are another way to spend time with others you know less well.

The benefit of the time you spend with someone is enhanced when you are sincerely “present,” meaning emotionally available as well as physically there. Although sometimes more difficult to achieve, this type of generous giving improves relationships as well as overall health. According to the Notre Dame researchers1, 48% of persons in more giving relationships were in excellent health, compared with 31% who were not in such relationships. People in “satisfying relationships” show more autonomic activation when confronting psychological challenges and have more efficient restorative behaviors4. While the effects of volunteering are beneficial for those who have a positive view of others, those who do not hold such views apparently do not benefit5.

• Share laughter! - Tell a joke or a silly story. Laughter, yours and the listener’s, is a great antidepressant6. Laughter reduces stress7, burns calories by increasing your heart rate8, decreases pain9, and may even protect you against heart disease10.

• Spread kindness - “Random acts of kindness” don’t have to be big things. Smiling at the check out clerk, letting someone with fewer items go in front of you in the grocery line, offering a compliment to someone at the bus stop on their choice of reading material, helping an elderly person step down safely off a curb… small actions of kindness on your part will improve your day as well as the recipient’s 11.

• Offer your skills - Volunteer to use your skills to benefit others. Can you help a struggling small business with bookkeeping? Clean house or prepare a casserole for a new mother overwhelmed with caring for her baby? Sew cuddle blankets that the rescue squad can give to traumatized children? Refurbish donated computers for a nonprofit?
Everyone has skills they can share. One way to share your life knowledge is to be a peer supporter. Research12 on nurses with chronic pain showed that those who volunteered to work with other chronic pain patients had decreased levels of pain intensity depression and disability, compared with those who did not volunteer. Helping others appears to reduce the risks of dying by buffering the effects of stress13. Persons who are less well socially integrated seem to derive the most improvement in well-being from volunteering14.

As Winston Churchill famously stated,

“We make a living by what we get.
We make a life by what we give.”

Find a way to give to others in the coming year, and reap the health benefits of your actions.


1 Smith, C. & Davidson, H. (2014). The Paradox of Generosity. Available from Amazon.

2 Dunn, E., & Norton, M. (2014). Happy Money: The science of happier spending. Available from Amazon.

3 Post, S. G. (2005). Altruism, happiness, and health: It’s good to be good. International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 12(2), 66-77.

4 Cacioppo, J. T., Ernst, J. M., Burleson, M. H., McClintock, M. K., Malarkey, W. B., Hawkley, L. C., et al. (2000, Mar). Lonely traits and concomitant physiological processes: The MacArthur social neuroscience studies. International Journal of Psychophysiology, 35(2-3), 143-154.

5 Poulin, M. J. (2014, Feb). Volunteering predicts health among those who value others: Two national studies. Health Psychology, 33(2),120-129.

6 Ko, H.-J., & Youn, C.-H. (2011, July). Effects of laughter therapy on depression, cognition and sleep among the community-dwelling elderly. Geriatrics & Gerontology International, 11(3), 267-274.

7 Berk, L. S., Tan, S. A., Fry, W. F., Napier, B. J., Lee, J. W., Hubbard, R. W., et al. (1989, Dec). Neuroendocrine and stress hormone changes during mirthful laughter. American Journal of the Medical Sciences, 298(6), 390-396.

8 Buchowski, M. S., Majchrzak, K. M., Blomquist, K., Chen, K. Y., Byrne, D. W., & Bachorowski, J. A. (2007, Jan). Energy expenditure of genuine laughter. International Journal of Obesity, 31(1), 131-137.

9 Tse, M. M. Y., Lo, A. P. K.. Cheng, T. L. Y., Chan, E. K. K., Annie H. Y. Chan, A. H. Y., & Chung, H. S. W. (2010). Humor therapy: Relieving chronic pain and enhancing happiness for older adults. Journal of Aging Research. Link retrieved December 31, 2017.

10 University of Maryland Medical Center (2005). School of Medicine study shows laughter helps blood vessels function better. Link retrieved December 31, 2017.

11 Tkach, C. T. (2006). Unlocking the treasury of human kindness: Enduring improvements in mood, happiness, and self-evaluations. Dissertation Abstracts International: Section B: The Sciences and Engineering, 67(1-B), 603.

12 Arnstein, P., Vidal, M., Wells-Federman, C., Morgan, B., & Caudill, M. From chronic pain patient to peer: Benefits and risks of volunteering. Pain Management Nursing, 3(3), 94-103.

13 Poulin, M. J., Brown, S. L., Dillard, A. J., & Smith, D. M. (2013, Sept). Giving to others and the association between stress and mortality. American Journal of Public Health, 103(9), 1649-1655.

14 Piliavin, J. A., & Siegl, E. (2007, Dec). Health benefits of volunteering in the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 48(4), 450-464

Images source: Pixabay

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