The holidays are synonymous with giving – which is often more about the gifts under the tree. I have tried to make it a point to teach my children to be grateful and to appreciate what they have, recognizing that others are not as fortunate. I explain that doing an act to help others can be so fulfilling. What I have found in this journey is that every deed connects to another and has beneficial effects to our health and the health of others.
It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone, smiling at the cashier during the insane Christmas buying rush and maybe even buying someone a cup of coffee in line next to you.
Recently, my daughter bought and made presents for the members of Sage Eldercare in Summit to help brighten their holiday. The reaction from the elderly was tranquilizing. One woman, who was the spitting image of my grandmother, did not hesitate and smothered both my children in kisses and hugs as if they were her own grandchildren – even so much as trying to offer them money! I left the facility bawling.
There is a scientific benefit to good-doing. A “helper’s high” could help you live a longer, healthier life. Think about the rush you get after helping someone – and the effect it has on that person’s life. Research shows that when we act on the behalf of others, we help them feel greater comfort and less stress. The same goes for the do-gooder – along with a sense of gratification of helping someone.
The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love (yes, that’s a real thing) created a comprehensive investigation of altruism. Two large studies found that those who volunteered were living longer than non-volunteers. In fact, there was a 44% reduction in early death among those who volunteered a lot.
When we stress, physiological changes happen to our bodies that cause our heart rate to increase and our immune and cardiovascular systems to be weakened, making us more susceptible to abnormal cellular changes. Good deeds help us reduce stress by thwarting this effect. The high we get from helping creates a lowered stress response and improved immunity (higher levels of protective antibodies). It is said to also affect beneficial brain chemicals. Oxytocin, a feel-good hormone, levels go up when we do something good, which helps relieve our stress hormone levels. It has also been proven to lower blood pressure and have an overall calming effect. Ultimately, creating a positive emotional state through do-gooding may help lengthen your life.
So for this holiday season, counteract any negativity generated from the hectic-ness of the holiday season with positive emotions and good deeds – it will change you and the world around you. Just think of the trickle-down effect.
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