It's no secret giving feels good. Whether it's donating to a charity, volunteering your time, or simply performing a small act of kindness for someone in need, giving can improve both the lives of those on the receiving end and those who give. In fact, numerous studies have found that acts of kindness can have a significant positive impact on mental health, improving everything from mood to overall life satisfaction.
A study conducted by researchers at the University of Zurich demonstrated that spending money on others can lead to greater happiness. Participants that were given $100 to spend on someone else reported higher levels of happiness than those who spent it on themselves.
According to research, people who consistently help others are less likely to experience depression, they tend to be calmer, suffer less from physical pain, and have better health in general.
The benefits of giving go far beyond just a temporary mood boost. The act of gift-giving stimulates the release of oxytocin, a hormone that signals trust, safety, and connection. This release creates a feeling of joy that lasts beyond the initial act of giving. Even the anticipation of giving a gift activates the same reward pathways as the act of giving itself. This also includes shopping and wrapping the gift. The whole experience raises a sense of joy and fulfillment that extends beyond the moment of giving itself.
One theory claims it helps create a sense of purpose and meaning in life. When we give to others, we feel like we are making a positive change in the world which can be incredibly empowering. Additionally, acts of kindness let us foster social connections and build relationships, which are the key to maintaining good mental health.
Of course, it's important to have in mind that giving should not be done solely for the purpose of boosting one's wellbeing. Acts of kindness should come from the place of genuine compassion and empathy for others. But it's reassuring to know that by giving to others, we are also contributing to our mental health.
So, the next time you're feeling down, consider doing an act of kindness for someone else. You don't have to aim super high – even something as simple as holding the door for a stranger or complimenting a coworker can make a difference. And who knows? You may just find that the act of giving brings a little bit of joy and happiness into your own life as well.
Check the resources we used to learn more:
Espinosa, J. C., Antón, C., & Grueso Hinestroza, M. P. (2022). Helping others helps me: Prosocial behavior and satisfaction with life during the COVID-19 pandemic. Frontiers in psychology, 13, 38. https://doi.org/10.3389/fpsyg.2022.762445
Mental Health America. (n.d.). Helping others can help you. Retrieved from https://www.mhanational.org/help-others
Novotney, A. (2022, December 9). What happens in your brain when you give a gift? https://www.apa.org/topics/mental-health/brain-gift-giving