Christmas may be the season of shopping queues and credit card bills but amid the commercial chaos exists a jolly silver lining. Research shows that the seasonal act of giving can induce happiness and good health.
Chief happiness officer and founder of The Happiness Institute, Dr Timothy Sharp, explains that acting generously can put you in a good mood.“When we monitor people who give, and that includes gifts, money or volunteering, there are parts of the brain associated with pleasure that are activated,” says Dr Sharp.
“This effect is called ‘the helper’s high’ – a release of endorphins that make you feel positive emotions when you give or volunteer.”
According to Dr Sharp, giving can also reduce your risk of death, lower blood pressure and keep the stress hormone, cortisol, at bay.
Most importantly, the positive psychology expert says, altruistic acts and being kind to others will create a sense of appreciation for what you have and boost social connectedness. “And having good-quality relationships is one of the most important things to achieving health, happiness and wellness.”
The helper’s high – a release of endorphins that make you feel positive emotions when you give or volunteer.
Erick Armando is a long-term ‘giver’. The Melbourne local donates time and money to The Smith Family (TSF) on a regular basis. He says his generosity is payback for all that TSF gave him, after he and his family arrived in Australia from El Salvador in 1992 having fled civil war.
“I know the difference that giving made to us as kids,” says Mr Armando. “So I’ve supported any appeals The Smith Family have run: giving gifts and financial support.
“It’s so true that the more I give back to my community, family, friends and the people I work with, through the laws of attraction, it does come back,” says the 28-year-old father. “If I can do something for someone else, of course it makes me feel happy.”
In addition to Mr Armando’s generosity, TSF has received more than 12,000 donated toy and book packs to hand out to 5,500 families nationwide this Christmas. And that is just the tip of the charitable iceberg this season.
Give in a variety of ways on a variety of days and change it over time to circumvent the problem of tolerance and getting used to it.
So why do so many people give this time of the year? Religious reasons aside, Dr Sharp says the act of giving produces an exponential flow-on effect making it contagious.
A 2006 study lead by Keiko Otake from Tohoku Gakuin University in Japan also describes the cyclical nature of giving, instigated by the act of kindness. It concludes that the kinder a person, the more generous they are. The more generous they are, the happier, kinder and more grateful they become. And so the cycle continues.
But, like anything that gives the body a positive rush, giving can also lose its buzz over time. “The anecdote is to give in a variety of ways on a variety of days and change it over time to circumvent the problem of tolerance and getting used to it,” says Dr Sharp.
“There are so many other things we can give that don’t cost money: love, attention, time and wisdom.
“If you give those things, they never lose their effect.”