You may hear the phrase “it’s better to give than to receive” more often around the holidays, that time of year associated with giving and receiving gifts. In our consumerist culture, we can lose sight of what we already have to focus exclusively on our needs and wants. Money cannot buy happiness despite what advertisements and marketing geniuses tell us. Instead, happiness happens as a byproduct of giving more rather than getting more.
Along with cultivating gratitude, behaving generously has a positive impact on our mood and well-being. You may know and have experienced the feel-good feelings that come from giving generously, whether the gift is a financial one or the gift of your time. Giving a gift to people we know personally is particularly rewarding because it feels good to see their faces light up, and it strengthens our social connection to them (Aknin et al., 2013). Research also shows that volunteering, charitable giving, and the like, improves both our mental and physical health.
For example, people who volunteer experience greater longevity, better functioning, and even lower rates of depression and heart disease, among other benefits (Morrow-Howell et al., 2003; Lum & Lightfoot, 2005; Musick et al., 1999; Oman et al., 1999; Schwartz et al., 2003). But, even beyond these benefits, volunteers also describe experiencing a sense of life purpose, gratitude, meaning, and greater connection to others. Particularly in our individualistic culture, it is important to remember the value of community, and that we are all connected, often in invisible, complex ways.
If you notice yourself feeling more depressed during this holiday season from isolation or feeling alone, try volunteering as an antidote. Depression creates tunnel-like vision, making it difficult to see beyond your circumstances. Giving to others broadens that view and connects us to others by reminding us of what we do have and that we are not alone. Giving cultivates gratitude for others.
Whether through organizations, your faith community, or your work, several opportunities exist for helping you to give this holiday season such as toy drives, food banks, clean-up crews, donating, charity runs, or helping organize events. Opportunities for giving are there for you and your family even after the holidays are over.
Nurturing the value of generosity not only benefits you emotionally and physically, but also gives back to the community and helps others in need. Giving really is better!
Aknin, L. B., Dunn, E. W., Sandstrom, G.M., & Norton, M.I. (2013). “Does Social Connection Turn Good Deeds into Good Feelings? On the Value of Putting the ‘Social’ in Prosocial Spending.” International Journal of Happiness and Development, 1(2): 155–171.
Morrow-Howell, N., Hinterlong, J., Rozario, P.A., & Tang, F. (2003). “Effects of Volunteering on the Well-Being of Older Adults.” The Journals of Gerontology, Series B, 58(3): S137-145.
Musick, M., Herzog, A.R., & House, J.S. (1999). “Volunteering and Mortality among Older Adults: Findings from a National Sample.” Journals of Gerontology Series B: Psychological Sciences and Social Sciences, 54(3): S173-S180.
Oman, D., Thoresen, C.E., & McMahon, K. (1999). “Volunteerism and Mortality among the Community Dwelling Elderly.” Journal of Health Psychology, 4(3): 301-316.
Schwartz, C., Meisenhelder, J. B., Ma, Y., & Reed, G. (2003). “Altruistic Social Interest Behaviors Are Associated with Better Mental Health.” Psychosomatic Medicine, 65(5): 778–785.