“Bah humbug!” The epic “A Christmas Tale” masterfully walks us through Ebenezer Scrooge’s transformation from a selfish miser to someone who learns that “only by giving are you able to receive more than you already have.” Generosity and kindness not only allow us to contribute to the lives of others and find meaning in our own lives, but enhance our health, and even support living healthier, longer.
Dr. Nina’s What You Need To Know: About Giving, Generosity, and Kindness:
Stress. Let’s face it, in a global, high-tech society where fast is faster, we face challenges with family, finances, health, business, and even the state of the world today. Life can be stressful. The continuous outpouring of stress hormones and molecules, known as chronic stress, can result in physical and mental consequences: immune system suppression, headaches, digestive disorders, infertility, muscle tension, short-term memory loss, heart disease, depression, panic attacks and premature death.
Helper’s High Acts of kindness, compassion, and generosity have been shown to elevate a number of “feel good” hormones and molecules: dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin. Our brain has a “reward system” that causes us to feel pleasure; and when we see food or someone we love, dopamine levels elevate and can cause a euphoric feeling. The majority of anti-depressant medications prescribed today increase serotonin levels. And, the hormone oxytocin is responsible for bonding. For example, it rises in mothers when they see their children and in couples who are madly in love.
- Heart health: The heart that gives, gathers; likely because of the release of oxytocin. The hormone has an overall calming effect and can lower blood pressure and stress hormones.
- Immune system: Studies have shown that performing acts of kindness can bolster our body’s defense system against germs.
- Pain relief: When over-the-counter or prescription pain medications cannot squelch the hurt, the solution may be performing an act of kindness. Doing so can release our body’s natural pain relievers, endorphins, which are similar in structure to morphine.
- Mental health: Generosity fosters “positive attitudes about aging and life, feeling connected, improvement in feelings of control and life satisfaction.” Additionally, it can help fight chronic stress, instill gratitude and decrease anxiety and depression.
- Weight loss: Walks, marathons, and bike rides to raise money for a charitable cause can trim our waistlines and help us drop a dress size or two. The event can motivate us to train many weeks or even months in advance, and hopefully make the new active lifestyle a routine we stick with.
- Longevity: By giving to others, we can live longer. One study showed that people 55 years of age and older who regularly volunteer for two or more charitable organizations have a 44 percent lower likelihood of dying. In fact, when it comes to increasing our lifespan, giving is as beneficial as quitting smoking and more beneficial than exercising four times a week, going to church, or taking an aspirin to protect against heart disease.
What are some tips?
- Challenge ourselves to perform random acts of kindness on a daily basis: donate toys to the pediatric wing of the hospital; hold the door open for someone; send thank you cards to our police officers and firemen who risk their lives for us; buy a member of The Armed Forces a cup of coffee; or recognize a co-worker by sending them an email, writing a card, or telling their boss … the list goes on.
- Identify our goals: Determine if we want to make it better within our community, meet people who are different than us, try something new, see a new place, or experience a type of work we may want to do as a full-time job.
- Identify our needs: Determine if we prefer to work with adults, children, or animals, work independently or with others, or be behind the scenes. Additionally figure out how much time we are willing to commit.
- Identify our skills: Consider incorporating a hobby into our generosity. For example, knitters can make and donate scarves, hats, or other items; gardeners can help a neighbor or school plant flowers or vegetables; animal lovers can help walk an elderly or sick neighbor’s dog or volunteer at an animal hospital or shelter; and those who love children can give their time at a local school or mentoring or after-school program.
- Make it a group activity: Spending time together as a family or with friends or loved ones, with the added benefit of giving, is a win-win situation.
- Start young: Studies have shown that when children volunteer, they are less likely to experience depression, commit suicide, get pregnant or abuse alcohol or drugs. Additionally, they are often more socially competent and have higher self-esteem.
As we look through our holiday shopping list, let’s make sure that “giving, generosity, and kindness” are on it. Whether we perform random acts of kindness, donate gifts or money to a charitable cause or person in need, or volunteer our time, it is by giving to others, that we truly receive. Generosity and kindness can connect us with our community, improve our mental and physical health, and become contagious. Let’s embody Mr. Scrooge’s hard-learned lesson: “I will honor Christmas in my heart, and try to keep it all the year.”
This information is for educational purposes and should not be considered specific medical advice. Always consult with a qualified medical professional regarding your individual circumstances.
Dr. Nina Radcliff is dedicated to her profession, her patients and her community, at large. She is passionate about sharing wise preventive health measures. Contact her on Facebook or Twitter @drninaradcliff.