There’s a special feeling you get when you give someone a present. It’s a warm feeling – you feel calm yet excited. You get the same feeling when you do a random act of kindness for a loved one, or even a stranger.
Buying the newspaper seller a coffee, putting your spare coins in a vending machine or buying your partner a present, just because, all promote that helper’s high.
It doesn’t even have to involve money. Offering to collect your elderly neighbour’s shopping or organising a charity collection have the same effect.
When you do something for someone else, your brain produces hormones,” says Dr David Hamilton, author of Why Kindness is Good for You.
“Dopamine – which makes you feel happy, and gives you the feeling that what you are doing is right – and opiates, the body’s own secret stash of heroin and morphine.”
So, giving is beneficial for both the giver and the receiver. A wealth of research supports the theory that giving makes you happy. When researchers gave two groups some money, telling the first to spend it on themselves, the second to buy a gift for someone else, the first group experienced momentary pleasure, but no long lasting satisfaction.
The second group, on the other hand, returned at the end of the day with their happiness levels still high.
“And the more regularly you give, the more that happiness becomes sustainable,” says Hamilton. Those who do charity work have supported the emotional benefits of giving too, showing lower levels of depression, and higher levels of self-esteem. It’s also good for your relationships. Kind acts bond two people, in fact, it’s within our genetics – we are wired to appreciate kindness.
But the benefits of giving go beyond the emotional. “The act of doing something for another person in any capacity has health benefits,” says Hamilton. Performing acts of kindness has been found to boost your immune system, keep your heart healthy and even slow the ageing process.
“Giving is also contagious,” says Hamilton. “It elevates people and inspires them. They process the kind act over and over again and because kindness is occupying their mind, they are more likely to do it for someone else. You end up with a ripple effect.”
There are many ways to incorporate giving to others into your daily routine. Sign up to do some volunteering or just be alert to the opportunities around you, it could be as simple as helping a mother with her buggy or holding the lift door open for someone.
“People often lack the courage to offer their help. But the more you give, the more courage you have to offer the next time,” says Hamilton.
As Audrey Hepburn once said, “You have two hands, one for helping yourself, the other for helping others.”
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