One of my favorite holiday stories is the Charles Dickens’ novel, A Christmas Carol. It captures the true meaning and spirit of the Christmas season – putting others before ourselves and doing good deeds.
At the beginning of the story, Mr. Scrooge is a selfish, bitter, mean, miserly old man. As he looks back on his life, he realizes the error of his ways. He learns that compassion, generosity and kindness are much more rewarding than being greedy and narcissistic. His spirit is reborn, and he is a changed man.
While we should be altruistic all year long, the holidays are a great time to volunteer and give back to others. In fact, helping others – without expecting anything in return – is actually good for your health.
Here are 6 health benefits of doing good deeds:
Volunteering can help reduce your risk of depression. A key risk factor for depression is social isolation. When you give back, you are regularly in contact with others and that helps you build a solid support system. If wintertime gives you the blues or if the holidays are getting you down, doing good deeds can help ward off depression.
In addition, you can actually experience a “helper’s high” when you do a good deed for someone else. Giving back can create a sense of euphoria that may also be accompanied by a surge of energy. The emotional rewards of doing good can boost the mind and soul.
Improve heart health
One of the many benefits of helping others includes better heart health. Acts of goodness are associated with the release of oxytocin – a hormone that is known to be linked to improved heart function. Since heart disease is still the number one killer, it’s important to protect your heart every way you can.
Volunteering can provide a healthy boost to your self-confidence and self-esteem. You may feel more satisfied with life and be happier with your place in the world. When you do good in your community, you have a sense of accomplishment. By feeling better about yourself, you have a more positive outlook on life overall.
Being happy and positive can also help you reduce stress. Getting out, spending time with others and making new friends is also great for alleviating tension and stress.
If you feel better about yourself and experience less stress, you may also live longer. Volunteers tend to be more conscientious about their own wellness. Your positive outlook can reinforce your desire to become more physically fit and eat a healthier diet.
Decrease chronic pain
When you do good deeds, you may recover more quickly from a wide range of ailments, including illness and injury. You may also feel less pain when you volunteer regularly. The positive energy from giving back can lower the chemicals in your body that contribute to inflammation and other diseases.
Want to enjoy these mind-body benefits of giving back and reach that helper’s high? Here are 5 tips to help you become more altruistic:
Use your talents
What can you do that could benefit others? Can you provide tutoring? Do you know how to paint or create pottery? Are you good at gardening, working with animals or playing sports? You may have skills that could benefit others – and it will be fun for you, too!
Set your own pace
You don’t need to start out volunteering 20 hours a week. Research has shown that just two hours of good deeds each week can boost both your mental and physical health.
Volunteering can be a good way to bond with friends or family members. You can strengthen your relationships while helping others.
Make it a habit
It’s the follow-through that really counts. Set a regular day and time to do your volunteering. If it’s on your schedule, you can quickly turn it into a habit.
Find your passion
It may take you some time to find the best fit between you and your volunteer activity. Try a few things out to see what works best for you. Start out with your skills and interests and go from there.
Good deeds are good for those you help and good for you. And, it feels good to be nice. Doing good guides you on the path to a more balanced life and creating a better version of yourself. Additional side effects include being more physically and mentally healthy, as well as growing as a person.
How do you give back? What are your plans for doing good deeds this holiday season?