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The Gifts of the Season

Whatever your plans this holiday season, there’s a good chance they will involve some measure of travel, food, gift-giving or social events—and quite possibly all four. While one might argue that the travel and food can get out of hand, giving gifts and socializing can be very good for you. Here’s why!

a candle in the center of two hands making the shape of a heart

Giving Makes You Happier

Stephen Post, professor of preventive medicine and bioethics at Stony Brook University School of Medicine and author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping and Why Good Things Happen to Good People, explains that even thinking about giving makes people happier. Evidence shows that thoughts about giving activate the part of the brain that’s associated with happiness and the production of dopamine, the brain’s “feel-good” neurotransmitter. The same happiness inducing brain responses are triggered when we give face-to-face.[1]

Giving is Good For Your Health

The physical and mental health benefits associated with giving have been documented across a number of studies. One such study, published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology in 2006, showed that givers not only had lower blood pressure, but also higher self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels than non-givers.

Others studies have suggested that giving one’s time through volunteer activities can help you live longer. One study out of the University of California, Berkeley, found that “people who were 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn’t volunteer—even accounting for many other factors including age, exercise, general health and negative habits like smoking.”[2]

Giving Makes You More Prosperous

Using data from the 2000 Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, researchers found “strong evidence that money giving does, in fact, influence income…The implication of these findings for researchers and managers is that the value of charity is not limited to those who receive the services that giving makes possible. On the contrary, charity unleashes substantial benefits to the givers themselves.”[3]

When the data on giving was further analyzed by economists, increased charitable giving was seen to generate increased prosperity for the entire country, not just for individuals. Specifically, the economists concluded:

“As in the case of individual income, the evidence is that increases in G.D.P. and giving mutually reinforce each other: Economic growth pushes up charitable giving, and charitable giving pushes up economic growth…In short, giving plays a positive role in American economic growth. It is a good investment for our country. Some might even go so far as to say that donating to charity is a patriotic act.[4]

Giving is not the only beneficial aspect of the season. Being social over the holidays also has its advantages. Even for those who don’t feel particularly sociable!

Socializing Helps You Live Longer

Whether you embrace and prefer solitude or feel lonely when you’re on your own, being solitary may shorten your life. Research shows that spending much of your time alone, whether or not you feeling lonely, increases your risk of dying within the next seven years by about 30%. A meta-analysis of 70 studies, including over 3.4 million participants, demonstrates that in-person interaction has a number of positive physiological effects that extend life. Looking at it another way, the results suggest that people with strong social relationships live healthier lives and increase their odds of survival by as much as 50%. [5]

Socializing Decreases Depression

One of the most common causes of depression in today’s society is loneliness. In fact, Jacqueline Olds, author of The Lonely American, argues that loneliness is often mistaken for depression. With our individualistic world view, simple loneliness due a lack of social contact doesn’t compute. So, instead of connecting with others, we get a prescription for anti-depressants or reach for a self-medicating alternative, neither of which solve the problem. Psychologists agree that a lack of social contact and chronic loneliness are major precipitants of both depression and alcoholism.[6]

Socializing Makes You Smarter

Who new? Being social is good for the brain! In a series of studies, University of Michigan researcher, Oscar Ybarra, has found that getting together and chatting with friends improves cognitive function. When analyzing the data on 3,716 Americans as well as 2,000 international study participants, and then testing for arithmetic tasks, memory, everyday decision making ability and overall cognition, Ybarra found: “Across all age groups, the more socially engaged participants were, the lower their level of cognitive impairment and the better their working memory performance.”[7]

An added brain expanding benefit offered by the holidays is the multi-generational nature of socializing that may only occur at these times. Research shows that socializing with younger generations can increase cognitive function, improve vascular health and even extend lifespan for older adults.[8] For younger generations, socializing with elders offers new perspectives and exposure to life experiences that can broaden the mind.

The Reason for the Season

When you find yourself caught up in the craziness of preparing for another holiday season and you start empathizing with the Grinch; think about the science for a moment and remember—giving is getting and loving is living.


From everyone here at NetSuite TribeHR, have a wonderfully social and generous holiday season!


Photo credit: Photo by 53 mm photogRaphy via CC BY 2.0

[1] Bruce DeBoskey, Philanthropy benefits the giver too, with “helper’s high” and “giver’s glow”

[2] National and Community Service, The Health Benefits of Volunteering

[3] Arthur C. Brooks, Does giving make us prosperous?

[4] Entrepreneur Magazine, Giving Makes You Rich

[5] US National Library of Medicine, Loneliness ‘increases risk of premature death’

[8] Scientific American. Socializing with Youth Improves the Elderly’s Health, Life Span

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