With the holidays almost upon us, it can put some of us in the mind of charity and doing nice things for people we love. After all, that’s what the spirit of the season is all about and it’s actually proven that doing something good for others is healthy for the person doing it.
Yes – you read that right. A 2013 study that looked at the relationship between volunteering and hypertension, doing something nice for people has a significant impact on high blood pressure. Adults over the age of 50 who volunteered just four hours a week were forty percent less likely than those who didn’t volunteer to have developed hypertension within the next four years.
Another study, this one from 2010, revealed that the fewer money people gave away, the higher their levels of cortisol. And it doesn’t stop there. A study from the University of Buffalo discovered a connection between being a giving person and living longer. Specifically, people who did things for others reported fewer stressful events thus reducing their mortality rates.
One proven effect of doing nice things for people you love is the elevated levels of endorphins your brain produces. The name for doing good and feeling good is upstream reciprocity or “the helper’s high” and the upshot of this is that your brain’s pleasure center lights up.
Other benefits of doing good things for and to others is that these acts are linked to decreased depression. Your overall satisfaction with life, your self-realization, and your physical health all stand to benefit (and all do). A review published in the BMC Public Health Journal that looked at 40 other studies determined that being a volunteer is great for your mental health. Wouldn’t it be crazy if one of the key ways for humans to feel less depressed was to simply help other people?
The holidays are here and it’s time to put the findings of these studies to the test. First off, you should find ways of doing nice things for people that don’t cost much or anything at all.
Give your time to someone who needs it. Maybe they need someone to listen. Maybe they need a smile. Maybe they need encouragement. It won’t cost you a penny to give your time to them, whether in person (preferably) or over the phone.
Donate Your Talents
Maybe you’re good at fixing things. Perhaps you’re good at playing the guitar. Whatever your talent is, offer it to a friend this season and help them out.
Take Someone Shopping
Not everyone has a car – and maybe you do. If so, call up those car-less friends and ask if you could take them food shopping.
Offer To Clean
Maybe a friend has had a baby. Or an injury. Or something that’s preventing them from cleaning up their place. Roll up those sleeves and throw yourself into it. Clean, dust, brush and bring the sparkle back to their place. It’ll also put the sparkle back in your eyes.
Here in Los Angeles, there are a large number of charities you can donate your time to. You can volunteer at Downtown’s Midnight Mission. It offers counseling, education, training, and job placement to the homeless, as well as food, shelter, personal hygiene, and medical care. But know that because it’s an all-male facility, Midnight Mission asks female volunteers to come with a companion (male or female).
You can also volunteer on Christmas Day at Union Station’s Homeless Services where they host their Holiday At The Station, providing thousands of holiday meals for homeless men, women, children, seniors, very low-income families, and those with no place to go during the holidays.
Over in Santa Monica, there is a similar program run by One Voice. Called the Holiday Food Program, it distributes Christmas food baskets, toys, and books to more than 2,500 families living in poverty in the L.A. area. On the Thursday and Friday before Christmas, over 2,000 volunteers show up to prep, sort and package food so expect lots of socializing too!
There is also the APLA Health organization that needs volunteers. They range from client access to a food pantry to nutrition/administrative to special events – so if any of those are areas you’re good with, head on over there.
There is so much you could do for loved ones and even strangers in need of love year round – but why not get your feet wet over the holidays and light the fire of giving. Who knows; you might wind up a much happier, healthier person because of it. If you or a loved one is suffering from depression, consider a consultation at Pulse. Even just queuing someone in on the benefits of TMS treatment could be that good deed you do for the holidays.