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“Helper’s High” by Cate Mellen

posted by Michelle Bell | January 03, 2018

It’s a new year, and this is the time when most of us sit down and take stock of our lives. We make resolutions to change our lives for the better. A lot of times those resolutions are related to health—lose weight, get in shape, reduce blood pressure, stop smoking or drinking, cut out sugar, etc.

Some of us make other resolutions regarding our own behavior. It might be financial—to be better about money by sticking to a budget, paying off a credit card or starting to save for retirement. It might be about creating quality time with family and friends—to make more special moments with loved ones, to cut down on phone / screen use when in company and be more in the moment or to eat dinner together on a regular basis. Or it might be about self-care—to take up yoga, meditation or other habits of mindfulness that help us stay centered and grounded.

But one type of New Year’s Resolution hits all of the categories I just listed above—physical health, finances, self-care and the importance of quality experiences—and that’s a resolution to Get More Involved With Charity in 2018.

“Wait a minute, Cate,” you might be saying. “I can see how charitable giving can have a financial benefit in my community, but what’s this about having an impact on health and wellness?”

I’m glad you asked! We all know that getting involved in a charity—whether as a donor or a volunteer—helps others. That’s the reason most of us do it—because we have a desire to make a positive impact on the world around us. But it has actually been well-documented that a number of health benefits are conferred on the giver of charity as well. The International Journal of Psychophysiology has shown that people who gave support to others had lower blood pressure than people who didn’t, and they also had greater self-esteem, less depression and lower stress levels.

A study at the University of California Berkeley revealed that adults 55 and older who volunteered for two or more organizations lived longer than those who didn’t volunteer—even accounting for many other factors including age, exercise and general health.

And if lower blood pressure, less depression and lower stress aren’t enough of a reason to give, how about the fact that studies have shown that people who support charities are measurably happier than those who do not? The National Institutes of Health have shown that during gift-giving behaviors (whether of money / material goods or of time / other intangible support) our brain secretes “feel-good” chemicals like serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. What’s more, in MRIs giving was found to stimulate the mesolimbic pathway—the reward center in the brain—releasing endorphins and creating what is known as the “helper’s high.”

So as you take stock of your life and identify ways in which you can change for the better in the New Year, resolve on a choice that also helps to make the world around you a better place. Commit to supporting one new charitable organization in 2018—find a cause that most interests you, and find a way to be involved. Most charities will always welcome your financial support, which can be given as a one-time gift or as a small recurring monthly donation. If you are stretched thin financially and don’t feel you can donate money this year, you can still donate your time and attention. The great news is that the health benefits I listed above aren’t dependent on a dollar amount.

Start with one organization. My bet is that you’ll find it so fulfilling that you’ll feel that “helper’s high” and want to find a second organization to support, and a third. And the best past is, as you experience the mental and physical health benefits of charitable giving—your community will be benefitting as well.

Happy New Year!

-by Cate Mellen, Development Director and Board Liaison ​