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The holiday season is upon us, which, for many, can mean an increase in stress, stress-related illnesses, and depression. We’ve discussed ways in which to alleviate these negative effects – getting enough sleep, exercise and maintaining a healthy diet. But did you know that performing random acts of kindness is good not just for the recipients’ well-being, but for yours, too?

How does this work?

A brain-imaging study . . . from the National Institute of Health showed that the “pleasures centers” in the brain, i.e. the parts of our brains that are active when we experience pleasure (like dessert, money, sex) are equally active when we observe someone giving money to charity as when we receive money ourselves! Giving to others even increases well-being above and beyond spending money on ourselves.[1]

In other words, when you perform a random act of kindness, your brain releases dopamine, the neurotransmitter responsible for mood elevation. “[R]esearchers . . . suggest practicing random acts of kindness to boost your mood and overall well-being rather than ‘retail therapy.’”[2]

It does feel good around the holidays donating to your organization of choice. However, showing compassion and volunteering throughout the year have an even greater beneficial effect on your health. “[S]tudies have consistently shown that improved mood, better physical health and increased longevity are connected to giving – whether it’s monetary donations or volunteer hours invested on the weekend. When it comes to your health, it truly is better to give than to receive.”[3]

Practice compassion and volunteerism throughout the year. It doesn’t just help those in need – it helps you, too.

[1] Seppälä, E. (2012, November 5). The Best Kept Secret to Happiness & Health: Compassion. Psychology Today. Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/feeling-it/201211/the-best-kept-secret-happiness-health-compassion.
[2]  Borreli, M. (2016, April 26). Random Acts of Kindness Raise Dopamine Levels and Boost Your Mood. Medical Daily. Retrieved from https://www.medicaldaily.com/random-acts-kindness-sweet-emotion-helping-others-dopamine-levels-383563.
[3] Renter, E. (2015, May 1). What Generosity Does to Your Brain and Longevity. U.S. News and World Report. Retrieved from https://health.usnews.com/health-news/health-wellness/articles/2015/05/01/what-generosity-does-to-your-brain-and-life-expectancy.