Christmas may be the season for giving, but research shows that becoming more giving year round can significantly boost your health and well being. During the sometimes stressful frenzy of Christmas shopping, the idea that giving to others can be good for your health and happiness is hard to believe, but a growing body of scientific research shows exactly that. It is now clear that doing good for others without any expectation of reward can give you better physical and mental health and even help you live longer. In fact, leaders in this type of research go so far as to say that the impact of giving is just as significant as not smoking and avoiding obesity. It has been found that people who volunteer for two or more organizations had a 44 percent reduction in mortality over five years, even after accounting for factors like differences in prior health status. These health benefits also seem to occur in giving of material things because it seems that those who spent money on others or on a charity are generally happier than those who spent on themselves, especially if the gifts are given to strangers rather than just family members or friends.
During the Christmas season, it is common to hear complaints about the commercial rituals that seem to get in the way of the true meaning of the holiday. If you focus on why you are giving it can truly make you feel better, which translates into physical changes and the promoting of overall health. Exactly how this works is not fully understood, but reduced exposure to stress hormones such as cortisol may be one factor. Knowing you have done something to improve the life of others not only boots our self esteem and gives us a sense of purpose, it also shifts our attention away from our own stresses and worries. Giving also integrates you more solidly and cohesively into your supportive social networks which is well known to have enormous benefits for both mental and physical health. Shared social support is one of the key factors that can predict longevity. During the holidays, this is even more essential to good health.
Lonely people dread the holiday season more than any other time of the year. Watching everyone around them connect to those they love makes their own feelings of emotional isolation even more profound. The holidays can make loneliness feel especially excruciating. This is a time of year when our desire for social contact may exceed what our lives offer, causing some people, and quite often the elderly, to fall into deep depression. People who dont fit into a family's holiday for what ever reason, or those who simply have no one with whom to celebrate, may actually prefer the company found in hospitalization rather than face the holidays in an empty home. Remembering those who may be alone during the holidays is a great way to give from the heart.
If you don't have time to commit to regular volunteer work, you can experience the benefits of giving by practicing simple acts of kindness. Try phoning or visiting a housebound person or collecting goods for a charity. Offer a kind smile or a compliment to those who spend their time in jobs of service or simply let someone ahead of you in line. It can be a very small gesture that makes a person's day a bit easier. If you do these things with the right intention, not merely to make yourself feel better, but to truly enhance someone's life, then it is a genuine act of giving. Giving is a state of mind as much as the actual act of kindness. Living in a state of gratitude for what you have and finding a ways to share your gifts freely ALL year, is the easiest way to create abundance for all. Give and you will be given so that you can give again.