Why Giving Back Makes You Happier (and How to Do It at Home)
There are so many reasons to give back. Creating a positive impact should always be the main consideration, of course. But in most cases, that’s far from the only benefit.
Researchers have studied the effect of giving on those who do it, and the results are positive across the board. Whether you donate money, volunteer with an organization, or just commit random acts of kindness, you can realize the many benefits of giving.
The Science of Giving
Researchers have found over and over again that giving increases happiness. In fact, giving to someone else makes people happier than spending the same amount of money on themselves.
Biologists have studied the mechanism behind this phenomenon. They’ve concluded that giving releases endorphins (much like exercising or hugging a loved one). It also activates a part of the brain that’s stimulated by food, money, sex, and drugs. In other words, humans are hard-wired to give to others, and it makes us feel good on a primal level. Some researchers even talk about “helper’s high,” a euphoric feeling people experience after doing good.
More Benefits of Giving
Giving also produces other benefits that contribute to happiness. In particular, it strengthens relationships, builds community, and evokes a sense of gratitude – all of which are key aspects of a happy life.
It’s probably no surprise that something we’re hard-wired to do improves our physical health as well. Giving helps to reduce stress levels, which brings a myriad of benefits in itself. Perhaps as a result, people who give tend to have lower blood pressure and even live longer than those who don’t.
How to Give Back
Giving back, and reaping the many benefits it yields, is easily available to all of us. You don’t need to travel around the world to visit an impoverished community. In fact, those trips usually reek of the white savior complex. All too often, they create more harm than good, especially when the volunteers are unskilled.
Instead, focus on contributing to your own community, where you’ll be able to make a bigger difference. Besides, giving back at home is something that can be consistent, meaning you’ll experience the benefits over the long run.
The best way to give back in your community will depend on what kinds of needs exist there and what type of volunteer opportunities are available. To start, you might look for established volunteer programs at schools, hospitals, assisted-living facilities, or animal shelters.
You could also see if any organizations work with refugees or immigrants in your town. They often use volunteers to teach English as a second language or provide other help. Check when there will be political campaigns going on, since they almost always need volunteers. If you like event planning, you could also host a fundraiser for a non-profit or organize a trash cleanup day.
Don’t forget about the small things that come up on a day-to-day basis either. Taking an extra minute to help someone out or commit a small act of kindness will mimic the effect of giving back more formally.
About the Author
Jen is a freelance writer, blogger, and yoga teacher who left her office job in Boston to travel the world with her husband. She previously worked in international development and academic research, and served as a Peace Corps volunteer in Rwanda. Some of her biggest passions include promoting responsible and mindful travel and helping her students develop their personal yoga practice.