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The Benefits of 'Giving' to Both the Receiver and the Giver

“Once there was a tree and she loved a boy,” begins Shel Silverstein in his book, The Giving Tree. And as its name suggests, the story is a tale about giving. The tree gives the boy her branches to swing from when he is bored, and apples to sell when he needs money. She gives him her branches and trunk when he longs for a house and a boat, and even when she has nothing left to give, she gives her stump to sit on when he is old and tired and still, “the tree was happy.” Probably the first book that taught us about the wonderful act of ‘giving,’ this children’s book still continues to enlighten children and adults alike about generosity and the benefits that come with it. Just like the tree and the boy, millions of people have already been well acquainted with the gesture of giving and receiving, and the satisfaction and enjoyment that comes with being on the receiving end of this age-old custom. However, surprising as it might be, new studies have shown that the benefits of giving are not only reaped by the gift receivers, but also by the giver themselves in terms of their health and happiness.

A 2008 study conducted by Michael Norton and his colleagues from Harvard Business School revealed that people are happier when they spend money on others versus themselves. One of the three tests conducted was a national survey whereby 632 American men and women were asked how much their salary was and what their monthly expenditure was in terms of bills, expenses, gifts for themselves, and what they spent on gifts for others in donations to charities. They were also asked to rate their level of happiness. The findings for the test showed that those who reported spending more on others also reported a greater level of happiness as compared to those who spent on themselves.

In addition, the act of giving not only makes you a happier person, it is also good for your health. A broad spectrum of research has led to the conclusion that generosity and better health, even among the sick and elderly, are interconnected with each other.

One way ‘giving’ improves an individual’s physical health is by a decrease in stress levels.

A study by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of University of Tennessee reports that people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressures as compared to participants who did not, attesting the fact that ‘giving’ has a direct relationship to physiological benefits. Moreover, in the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Stephen Post who is professor of preventive medicine at Stony Brook University writes that ‘giving to others’ has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness, including HIV and multiple sclerosis.

Whether it is by giving help to others, volunteering for organizations or donating to charities, your act of ‘giving’ can help you and the many others around you; and I hope all the research on generosity’s positive benefits might inspire even the worst cynics in us to reconsider their giving behavior.

Categories: Mindfulness