Can you remember how you felt the last time you gave your time, energy, or money to something you care deeply about? Perhaps you’re thinking of how nourishing it felt when you volunteered to make a warm, nutritious Thanksgiving meal for women experiencing homelessness, or donated your time or money to your favorite animal rescue, or even when you held the door open for an elderly man using a walker. All acts of generosity, no matter how big or small, have the potential to create a profound impact on your community, the world, and you.
What Does Giving Mean to You?
The holiday season is quickly approaching, so it’s the perfect time to consider what giving means to you. It’s easy to get caught up in the frenzy of traditional holiday gift-buying and giving, but generosity can take many forms. Giving can mean donating money or time to a person, creature, or community in need. It can also mean sharing your light and energy with family and friends. During the holidays, the spirit of generosity is in the air, and giving is probably at the forefront of your mind. But as the lights come down and the festivities dwindle, you may forget how powerful giving can be. This year, consider allowing the generous spirit of the season to serve as a catalyst for cultivating a giving practice that continues throughout the year.
As you embark on a practice of continual giving, keep in mind that generosity can be simple and you can tailor it to suit your life. If giving money is not an option, consider giving time—even just a few minutes makes a difference. In five or 10 minutes, you could write a card to a lonely person in an assisted living facility. Or you could volunteer to sit and talk with an elderly person for one hour per month or snuggle with cats and dogs at your local animal shelter. If you’re short on time, giving even a small amount of money to a philanthropic group makes a tremendous difference to the person or organization on the receiving end. Think about the causes you’re passionate about and consider donating $1 to them. If time and money are difficult to spare, consider all of the small yet powerful ways you can give energetically to family, friends, and your community. Give a heartfelt, generous hug to a friend or a warm smile to a stranger you pass on the sidewalk.
When you integrate more giving into your life, you might begin to notice the valuable lessons this practice can offer. Here are 10 powerful lessons you can learn from giving:
1. Giving Makes You Happier
Giving can not only create positive feelings in the person on the receiving end, but it has also been shown to be a potent mood booster for the giver. For example, a 2017 study published in Nature Communications found that the study participants who chose to make generous choices (such as spending money on others rather than themselves) had a greater increase in levels of self-reported happiness. So the next time your friend asks you to watch her dog for the weekend, or your neighborhood organizes a beach clean-up, think about all the positive energy you’re creating when you say “Yes, please!”
2. Giving Improves Your Physical and Emotional Health
The benefits of generosity extend well beyond your emotional health. Giving can yield positive benefits to your physical health and well-being as well, including decreased stress, lowered blood pressure, and even increased longevity. Decreasing stress levels is critical, as chronic stress is an underlying cause of many diseases. A 2013 study found that people who volunteered even just a few hours a week were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who did not volunteer.
3. Generosity Is Contagious
Giving truly is the gift that keeps on giving. This is the beauty of generosity. Every act of giving has the potential to create a ripple effect of generosity that has limitless potential. This is why you might feel inspired to donate money to a philanthropic cause you care about when you see a friend on Instagram donating to that cause. Or why you feel called to join your yoga community in organizing a food drive for newly arrived refugees during the holidays. Research has shown that acts of generosity, like donating to a charity, are contagious. Think about the exponential effects of that generosity as it makes its way across your community and into the world.
4. Giving Bolsters Feelings of Gratitude
Both the giver and receiver can experience a healthy dose of gratitude when generosity is at play. Why is this so important? Because gratitude in and of itself is important to your physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being. This is why telling people that you are grateful is so important. Try this through the task of making gratitude lists and express a heartfelt thank-you for generous acts both big and small.
5. Giving Helps You Stay Connected
Human beings are wired for social connection and cooperation. No matter how self-sufficient you are, you need other people in order to survive. Consider for a moment all of the people involved in your ability to carry out your activities of daily living. Somebody grew the kale you ate with your morning egg scramble. Somebody paved the roads you drove on to get to work. In every moment, the list of people past and present who are helping you is immense.
Humans are inextricably connected to each other, and yet modern living can leave you feeling isolated. This is why it’s more important than ever to maintain meaningful connections with those around you. Giving fosters a sense of trust and cooperation between people and groups. This increased social connection is a boon for your physical and emotional health. Again, giving need not be grandiose to be impactful. So next time you’re cooking a delicious dinner, make extra and drop off a plate at your best friend’s house.
6. Giving Can Help You Find Your Calling
Focusing on others through acts of generosity a can teach you a lot about yourself. Giving can not only provide you with a sense of purpose, but it can also help you discover work that you’re passionate about. Countless people have found their true calling through volunteer activities. Somebody out there volunteered to help build a home for a family in need, discovered that she loved the physical and mental stimulation of that labor, and put her passion to work in a full-time job for a non-profit dedicated to providing homes for low-income families. Somebody else who volunteered to walk dogs at his local animal shelter felt completely aligned with that experience and decided to launch his own animal rescue. If you’re willing to pay attention to the causes you’re drawn to, you might just discover your life’s work and greatest skills.
7. Generosity Fosters Compassion
Suffering is an unavoidable part of life. Everyone experiences it and you are witness to it. But as painful as suffering is, something beautiful lies on the other side: compassion. Where there is someone or something suffering, there is usually a person who wants to ease it and who is ready to bring compassion to the situation. Showing compassion is its own unique act of generosity. And compassion not only brings comfort to the suffering, but it can also boost your own feelings of happiness and help you develop more meaningful connections with others.
8. Giving Is Always Available
Generosity is available to everyone—anytime and anywhere. It does not need to be structured or premeditated. It can be great or small. You can decide at any moment that you want to tell a coworker “thank you” for their hard work on a project or pay for a stranger’s coffee in the morning.
9. Giving Can Change the World
All great change starts with small actions. Your generosity, in the form of time, money, energy, or even attitude, has the potential to affect massive change in the lives of other people and creatures. Here’s a simple example: you volunteer one hour per month at your local animal shelter, where you walk and pet and talk to stray dogs. Because these dogs have received extra love and attention, they are happier. Because they are happier, they are more likely to be adopted. Suddenly, that one hour of time you gave each month (which was probably quite enjoyable for you!) has led to an animal getting a second chance at a happy life. This situation demonstrates how giving works. It sets off a chain of small yet meaningful actions that lead to big change.
10. Don’t Forget About You!
Giving, as with any practice you cultivate, should place mindfulness at center stage. There is a time to give and a time to receive and it is vital to know the difference. You must give to yourself to be of any use to others, and just like giving to others, giving to yourself can be free and simple. Giving to yourself through small acts of self-care—think going to a restorative yoga class, drinking a warm cup of tea and reading a beloved book, or listening to your favorite song—will better position you to give to others.
Whether you give your time, energy, or money this holiday season, remember that your generosity can spill over into the new year and beyond. Take the opportunity to do good this holiday season. When you spend your time giving, you are likely to discover that you feel happier and more fulfilled in the process.
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; it does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health programs.
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