Up­sides of Gen­eros­ity

Family Circle - - CONTENTS - By Christina Ver­cel­letto

Giv­ing isn’t just about writ­ing a check to your fa­vorite char­ity. It’s also about spend­ing the day vol­un­teer­ing—when you re­ally need to clean out the garage. Or of­fer­ing up your seat on the train to some­one else. While these ges­tures of­ten come from a self­less place, all of them have a pos­i­tive kick­back to you. And whether we’re gen­er­ous with cash, time or com­pas­sion, re­search shows we can max­i­mize the ben­e­fits—men­tally and phys­i­cally—of kind acts.

How to buy hap­pi­ness

Get ready for a bliss­ful bomb­shell: Spend­ing as lit­tle as $5 on some­one else could make us sig­nif­i­cantly hap­pier, ac­cord­ing to re­search done by the Uni­ver­sity of Bri­tish Columbia. So grab an ex­tra latte for your co­worker or drop off a small bou­quet with an el­derly neigh­bor. “When you’re help­ing some­one, the feel­ing of sat­is­fac­tion cre­ates hor­mones, such as ep­i­neph­rine, dopamine and sero­tonin, that gen­er­ate a feel­ing of well-be­ing,” ex­plains Ilan Shapiro, MD, med­i­cal di­rec­tor of health ed­u­ca­tion at Al­tamed in Los An­ge­les. I can at­test to that magic first­hand. About a month be­fore Christ­mas last year, a friend was laid off with no sev­er­ance—and she and her hus­band were al­ready strug­gling to stay afloat. She has six grand­ba­bies she adores, so while I was in Wal­mart, on a whim, I picked out six toys, then left the bag on her stoop. She called me in tears. “I’ll never for­get what you did for us,” she said. And I was happy. Happy not just in that mo­ment but for days af­ter. You prob­a­bly would be too. If you’re in a po­si­tion to make big do­na­tions, “sus­tain­abil­ity is the name of the game,” ad­vises Ernest Rasyidi, MD, a psy­chi­a­trist with St. Joseph Hos­pi­tal in Irvine, CA. Re­peated acts of gen­eros­ity have even bet­ter health ben­e­fits, not to men­tion that your acts of kind­ness will start to feel like se­cond na­ture. Talk with your part­ner about why you want to sup­port your alma mater’s schol­ar­ship fund or an Alzheimer’s re­search or­ga­ni­za­tion. “Then aim for an amount you can live with as a long-term com­mit­ment,” says Rasyidi. Many char­i­ties have the op­tion of au­to­mated monthly gifts, which they ac­knowl­edge with an email alert. But you may get more of a boost by sit­ting down to is­sue that pay­ment your­self each month.

How to do good deeds

While it can be hard to find the time, phys­i­cally join­ing in to do vol­un­teer work is worth it. “Per­sonal con­nec­tions al­ways lead to the strong­est re­sults,” says Rasyidi. Be a tu­tor, for ex­am­ple, if you had a teacher who changed your life, or help to or­ga­nize a show for a lo­cal arts group if your mother loved to paint. Be­cause of the con­nec­tion, you’ll be more likely to stick with it. Think about your per­son­al­ity as well. If you’re a peo­ple per­son, work­ing a blood drive for the Red Cross or chap­er­on­ing a trip for your kid’s school may be the best choice. Science says self­less giv­ing can de­crease de­pres­sion and im­prove your sleep. What’s more, a Uni­ver­sity of Cal­i­for­nia, Berke­ley, pa­per noted that acts of kind­ness to­ward in­di­vid­u­als can re­duce your

risk of ill­nesses such as car­dio­vas­cu­lar dis­ease and rheuma­toid arthri­tis. If you’ve been toy­ing with the idea of vol­un­teer­ing but are not quite sure an af­ter­noon of reg­is­ter­ing vot­ers is right for you, stop think­ing and just take the plunge. “Some­times you have to get started, even if the pos­i­tive feel­ings aren’t there, be­cause with enough rep­e­ti­tion, the ben­e­fits ap­pear,” notes Rasyidi. If you’re think­ing, “I just don’t have the en­ergy and the headspace to be like those cheery vol­un­teers,” that’s to­tally fine...but try any­way. Go spend an af­ter­noon walk­ing shel­ter dogs and see if that doesn’t end with the emo­tional boost you wanted it to be­gin with.

How to make words count

Sin­cere praise is just an­other form of gen­eros­ity. Chris Bein, a mom in Baby­lon, NY, knows this all too well. She and her daugh­ter, Sarah, used to make a game of see­ing which of them could find some­one to of­fer a thank-you or a com­pli­ment to first. “Espe­cially those who aren’t ap­pre­ci­ated enough, like the garbage­men, the UPS guy, the high school cus­to­dian or kids who seem left out,” ex­plains Chris. Not only does the act re­duce your own stress, but it’s also free—and easy. “How hard is it to say, ‘Your hair looks lovely to­day’ or ‘What a great out­fit’?” says Su­san New­man, PHD, a so­cial psy­chol­o­gist in New York City, who notes that em­pa­thy and hear­ing peo­ple out has a sim­i­lar im­pact. “It is gen­er­ous to sim­ply lis­ten to a sib­ling or friend’s prob­lems,” she says. Just re­mem­ber to be kind to your­self as well while you’re look­ing out for the world. De­bra Buser, a mom of two teens, is greeted as “Momma De­bra” around Langhorne, PA. Known for tak­ing care of ev­ery­one, she’s a reg­u­lar vol­un­teer. But the se­cret to the longevity of her gen­er­ous spirit is say­ing no once in a while. “I love to share my time with my neigh­bors, fam­ily, school com­mu­nity,” says De­bra. “But tak­ing a break to fo­cus on my­self now and then is what keeps it pos­si­ble—and en­joy­able.”

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