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What Can Make You Happy, Improve Health, Promote Connections, Cause Gratitude and Is Contagious In a Good Way?

Studies attest to the benefits of giving—not just for the recipients but for the givers’ health and happiness, and for the strength of entire communities. Research suggests the same benefits come from donating to charities or volunteering your time, like at a soup kitchen or a homeless shelter. Here are some of the ways that giving is good for you and your community.

1. Giving Makes Us Feel Happy

A study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton and colleagues found that giving money to someone else lifted participants’ happiness more that spending it on themselves (despite participants’ prediction that spending on themselves would make them happier).

These good feelings are reflected in our biology. A study at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”

2. Giving is Good For Our Health

Different forms of generosity have been linked to better health, even among the sick and elderly. Giving to others has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness. One study found that those individuals who provided practical help to friends, relatives, or neighbors, or gave emotional support to their spouses, had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than those who didn’t. One reason giving may improve physical health and longevity is that it helps decrease stress, which is associated with a variety of health problems.

3. Giving Promotes Cooperation and Social Connection.

When you give, you’re more likely to get back. Several studies have suggested that when you give to others, your generosity is likely to be rewarded by others down the line—sometimes by the person you gave to, sometimes by someone else. 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.

What’s more, when we give to others, we don’t only make them feel closer to us; we also feel closer to them. “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably,” writes Sonya Lyubomirsky in her book The How of Happiness, and this “fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.”

4. Giving evokes gratitude.

Whether you’re on the giving or receiving end of a gift, that gift can elicit feelings of gratitude—it can be a way of expressing gratitude or instilling gratitude in the recipient. And research has found that gratitude is integral to happiness, health, and social bonds. Robert Emmons and Michael McCullough, co-directors of the Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness, found that teaching college students to “count their blessings” and cultivate gratitude caused them to exercise more, be more optimistic, and feel better about their lives overall. A study at Florida State University found that expressing gratitude to a close friend or romantic partner strengthens our sense of connection to that person.

Barbara Fredrickson, in her book, Positivity, , suggests that cultivating gratitude in everyday life is one of the keys to increasing personal happiness. “When you express your gratitude in words or actions, you not only boost your own positivity but [other people’s] as well. And in the process you reinforce their kindness and strengthen your bond to one another.”

5. Giving is contagious.

When we give, we don’t only help the immediate recipient of our gift. We also spur a ripple effect of generosity through our community. When one person behaves generously, it inspires observers to behave generously later, toward different people. Giving has also been linked to the release of oxytocin, a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection to others. A dose of oxytocin can cause people to give more generously and to feel more empathy towards others, with “symptoms” lasting up to two hours. People on an “oxytocin high” can potentially jumpstart a “virtuous circle, where one person’s generous behavior triggers another’s.

Buying Gifts, volunteering your time or donating your money may help you build stronger social connections and even jumpstart a cascade of generosity through your community. And don’t be surprised if you find yourself benefitting from a big dose of happiness in the process.

Raising Money Smart Kids should include showing them the benefits of sharing their money and time. A great way to start is by opening their own account at WKFCU. We have a Scottie Savers Account for children ages birth to 12 and an Extreme Teen Account for ages 13 to 17. Open a kids account for FREE during July. Details at www.wkfcu.org

(Partially reprinted from the Greater Good Magazine.)

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