It feels great when you receive a gift, whether it’s a material item you’ve wanted or something less tangible like a helpful hand or praise from a person whose opinion means a lot to you. As a reminder that we all have something we can share with others, Be an Angel Day was established in 1993 by Jayne Howard Feldman to encourage people to do random acts of kindness. We celebrate this holiday on August 22nd and can take the message of it with us—independent of any spiritual connotations if you choose—to create opportunities for giving, volunteering, and being helpful all year round.
There are so many ways to make a difference in the lives of other people, both face-to-face and behind the scenes in your community. Help a family member by offering to babysit, run a few errands or do the grocery shopping for a friend who’s under the weather, or give an older neighbor a hand by raking and bagging up the leaves on the lawn (which will also give you a nice workout).
If you’re interested in a more formal type of commitment, consider volunteering your time once a week, once a month, or whenever it will fit into your schedule at a local program or facility. The options are endless, ranging from visiting a senior center to brighten the day of some elderly members of society to tutoring disadvantaged youths, and from taking care of homeless dogs and cats at an animal shelter to preparing food to assist patrons at a soup kitchen or at a temporary residence for families of sick children or for an organization like Meals on Wheels.
While activities like these might use up some of your free time, they can benefit you in ways you might not even realize. Helping others is associated with some significant health perks for you, including the following four advantages.
1. Being a Do-Gooder Makes Us Happy
Doing things that makes others happy makes you feel happy in return. Think of all the times you brightened someone’s day with a small gesture; it didn’t only please them, it made you feel wonderful too. And science backs those anecdotes up. A 2017 study at City University of Hong Kong showed that people who volunteer have greater life satisfaction, more social wellbeing, less depression, and better overall mental and physical health.1 Yeung, Jerf W.K.; et al. “Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms.” BMC Public Health. 11 July 2017. Accessed 1 August 2018. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504679/.
2. Volunteering Lowers Your Blood Pressure
To say that those who give of themselves through community service have good hearts just might be literally true as well as a figure of speech. A 2013 study at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania found that middle-aged and older people have a lower instance of hypertension when they devote time to helping others through volunteerism. Although it is not clear exactly why this might be the case, it may have to do with improving the quality and quantity of their social interaction opportunities.
3. Lending a Hand is Good for Your Brain
Offering support of any kind to others is not only good for you mentally, but it actually benefits your brain. In a 2016 study that took place at the University of California, Los Angeles, researchers discovered that giving social support such as cheering people up or being available when someone needed a person to lean on is associated with positive reactions in your brain that result in less stress-related activity and more reward-related activity as seen through functional MRI scans.2 Inagaki, Tristen K.; et al. “The Neurobiology of Giving Versus Receiving Support: The Role of Stress-Related and Social Reward-Related Neural Activity.” Psychosomatic Medicine. May 2016. Accessed 2 August 2018. http://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Citation/2016/05000/The_Neurobiology_of_Giving_Versus_Receiving.7.aspx.
Interestingly, receiving social support also benefited the brain, but not to as great an extent as giving it.
4. Giving Can Increase Your Longevity
As we’ve seen, there is mounting evidence that helping others provides the giver with great health benefits, both mentally and physically. And perhaps due to the cumulative effects of these benefits over time, another reward for this positive behavior appears to be a longer lifespan. A 2012 study at the University of Michigan Institute for Social Research in Ann Arbor showed that, among older individuals, those who offer some form of practical or emotional assistance to others have a 60 percent lower chance of dying than their peers who provide no support to others. So, give a little bit, and you may just get a whole lot in return.
|↑1||Yeung, Jerf W.K.; et al. “Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: cumulative effects and forms.” BMC Public Health. 11 July 2017. Accessed 1 August 2018. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504679/.|
|↑2|| Inagaki, Tristen K.; et al. “The Neurobiology of Giving Versus Receiving Support: The Role of Stress-Related and Social Reward-Related Neural Activity.” Psychosomatic Medicine. May 2016. Accessed 2 August 2018. http://journals.lww.com/psychosomaticmedicine/Citation/2016/05000/The_Neurobiology_of_Giving_Versus_Receiving.7.aspx.|