8 health benefits from giving
Four years ago, as my husband’s cancer was ramping up, our friend Kattaryna texted from Alaska: “Trying to figure out how to bring some Alaska to you and hubby. Any requests?”
Gary asked for Baked Alaska, and I requested a live baby moose. We’re both easy to please.
Photo: Marlys Johnson
Apparently something got lost in the translation. Because we found this colorful, hand-crafted, moose-shaped garden ornament planted in a rather large and beautiful fall bouquet on our front porch. (Which, if you can’t have a live moose, is the next best thing.)
Four years ago as cancer was picking up speed, there was so much kindness and amazingness surrounding my husband and me.
With each generous gift, with each acceptance of help when it was offered—apparently something I wasn’t good at doing until Daughter Summer pointed it out and started lecturing—God was reminding me I couldn’t carry this load alone.
I needed this fiercely supportive team of friends, family, co-workers, cancer community members.
Being on the receiving end isn’t nearly as comfortable as being on the giving end. But think of what we would be denying the people who want to be part of our story.
Before we dig into the list, this disclaimer from Sarah Konrath, Ph.D:
Research finds that volunteering only has health benefits for people who do it in order to help others, rather than to help themselves. So please pick a cause you care about and do it with your heart.
With that prerequisite in mind, these 8 health benefits associated with volunteering and charitable giving:
1. Lower risk of dementia
This from a piece entitled Be Generous: It’s a Simple Way to Stay Healthier published in the Chicago Tribune: “A recent review of studies found that, among seniors, volunteering is likely to reduce the risk of dementia and is associated with … fewer functional limitations and lower mortality.”
2. Increased self-esteem
Emily Roberts, MA, LPC, writes in Why Giving Back Increases Your Self-Esteem: “When we stop focusing on ourselves, shifts take place, and the way you feel about yourself can drastically improve.”
3. Lower blood pressure
Sara Konrath, Ph.D., and Stephanie Brown, Ph.D. published a report, The Effects of Giving on Givers reviewing studies that linked positive health with giving. “Signals of good health such as lower blood pressure, and ultimately, a significantly lower risk of mortality in older adults or chronically ill patients arise in charitable patients.”
4. Reduced cardiovascular risk
In a Psychology Today article, Volunteering Protects Against Heart Disease, Christopher Bergland confirms that “you can add volunteering to the list of ways to protect the health of your heart and increase longevity.”
5. Less depression and anxiety
A post in a Harvard Medical School publication, Volunteering May Be Good for Body and Mind, reports: “Studies have shown that volunteering helps people who donate their time feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression.”
6. Lower stress levels
Spending Money on Others Can Lower Your Blood Pressure, maintains that “giving to others may help strengthen our relationships and foster resilience in the face of stress.”
7. Greater happiness
This from a Cleveland Clinic piece: “Biologically, giving can create a ‘warm glow,’ activating regions in the brain associated with pleasure, connection with other people, and trust.”
8. Longer life
Sarah Konrath, Ph.D in a Psychology Today item writes:
If you want to live forever, I can’t help you with that. But if you want to live a longer, happier, and healthier life, take all the usual precautions that your doctor recommends, and then get out there and share your time with those who need it. That’s the caring cure.
The caring cure. I like that phrase.
* * *
This thought from someone named Tagore:
I slept and dreamt life was joy; I awoke and saw life was service; I acted and, behold, service was joy.
Throughout those last months of Gary’s life, there were no small gifts. The sum total of the love that arrived at our doorstep – whether it made it past the front porch or not – was colossal.
And every gift carried this powerful message: It grieves my heart to know your beloved is dying, and it brings me great joy to deliver this ray of sunshine.
Four years ago, as Gary and I started down the path of his sweetly sorrowful decline, this was confirmed to me:
Accept love and support. Graciously. Humbly. Gratefully. Allow others the benefit of giving.
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