The holidays always tend to inspire a greater sense of charity, altruism, and gratitude. The oft-quoted, “it is better to give than receive,” is never felt more acutely than around this time of year. And thanks to science, a healthy lifestyle should include acts of giving along with all the other things we know to be beneficial.
For starters, there are the six dimensions of health: physical, emotional, cognitive, social, spiritual, and environmental.
Perhaps there should be a seventh dimension: giving.
The Science of Giving
Science has shown that giving to or supporting others has beneficial health effects. One study found that giving support to others reduced stress-related activity in our brain while also promoting greater reward-related and caregiving-related brain activity.
The rewards of giving and receiving social support creates the ultimate win-win situation. When someone in need receives help, he or she benefits directly from the social support; simultaneously, the giver benefits in specific brain regions associated with stress, reward, and caregiving.Psychology Today
The ‘Warm Glow’ of Kindness
Another study found that the “warm glow” of kindness is a real thing that exists in our brains (thanks to brain scans). The researchers distinguished two types of kindness: strategic (when an act of kindness can lead to something gained) and altruistic (when there is nothing to be gained from being kind). The findings showed that both acts of kindness lead to reward areas of the brain activating. But what was most compelling were the findings around altruistic acts of kindness. These altruistic acts not only activate the brain’s reward centers but activate additional areas of the brain that make us feel good. That means the intent behind our kindness can affect our brain and how we ultimately feel about ourselves and the act itself.
Regardless of what science says, giving is something that should be part of a well-rounded approach to living healthy and happy. Helping others can heal your heart, too.
Happy Holidays from Rise!
Sonja Stilp M.D. is a doctor and founder of RISE. She is a board-certified physical medicine and rehabilitation physician with fellowship training in interventional spine and sports medicine. Schedule an appointment to meet with Dr. Stilp at RISE in Boulder, Colorado.