The picture above is of the Thanks-giving Chapel in downtown Dallas, Texas. Its beautiful stained glass spiral symbolizes the beauty and fragility of life, how even as it circles back on itself there are opportunities to rise above and do better. December 2, 2014, the Tuesday after Thanksgiving, affords us the opportunity to do better by participating in Giving Tuesday. Beyond the frantic pace of Black Friday and Cyber Monday lies the peaceful center of the holiday season: the chance to give to research and charitable organizations that are helping those who are less fortunate.

Here are just a few of the ways in which giving is good for us.

Giving feels good, literally

A study by Harvard Business School professor Michael Norton found that people who gave money to others instead of spending it on themselves felt better, even though study participants predicted the opposite. Sonja Lyubomirsky duplicated these results at the University of California, Riverside when she asked participants to complete five acts of kindness a week for six weeks. Our body chemistry actually changes when we do good. Jorge Moll and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that giving activates the pleasure centers of our brains, helping us associate giving with social connection and general well-being.

Giving helps us to appreciate what we have

The Research Project on Gratitude and Thankfulness found that when college students were taught to express gratitude (to count their blessings, as it were) they were more likely to exercise, be optimistic, and feel better about life in general. This expression of gratitude can also increase the feeling of connection between romantic partners, families, and friends. Barbara Fredrickson, author of the book Positivity and one of the leading researchers on happiness had this to say about the benefits of expressing gratitude:

“When you express your gratitude in words or actions, you not only boost your own positivity but [other people’s] as well. And in the process you reinforce their kindness and strengthen your bond to one another.”

Giving keeps us healthy

There is a mountain of research about the positive health effects of charitable giving. To wit:

A 1999 study found that elderly people who volunteered were 44% less likely to die than their non-volunteering peers, even when controlling for diet, exercise, and detrimental habits like smoking and drinking.

In 2006, researchers from Johns Hopkins University and University of Tennessee found that volunteers had lower blood pressure than non-volunteers (again controlling for several factors).

A study from 2007 found that “even mandatory, tax-like transfers to a charity elicit neural activity in areas linked to reward processing. Moreover, neural responses to the charity’s financial gains predict voluntary giving.”

From a 2011 Consumer Reports story comes the results of a study of older adults who volunteered 15 hours a week in elementary school and showed remarkable personal benefits. These adults ranked themselves in fair health at the start of the study but showed an increase in walking and stair-climbing speed not present in non-volunteers over eight months. They also decreased their television viewing time, a key indicator of health.

So you know that giving is good for your mind, body, and spirit. How can you get involved in Giving Tuesday?

Sign up to become a partner or a social media ambassador

Partner organizations will help lead a drive for charitable donations, and social ambassadors will spread the word and build momentum with the hashtag #GivingTuesday.

Identify a cause you believe in or one that affects friends or family members

This makes you more likely to continue to give beyond Giving Tuesday. The American Chronic Pain Association is a non-profit organization that offers support and education to chronic pain sufferers and their families and doctors. America’s Charities is a great place to start for a comprehensive list of charities that deal with not only chronic pain but also other worthwhile causes.

Use Giving Tuesday’s tools to come up with a plan

Whether it’s taking an #unselfie, sharing other graphics to promote altruism, or sharing an entire curriculum guide on philanthropy with your local school, there are many different ways to participate that go beyond just writing a check.

Although if you want to give money and be done with it, there are resources for that, too!

Stay local if that feels best

Every community has needs that are best understood and addressed by its residents. Use local Facebook pages and Twitter accounts to identify needs and get in touch. Is someone collecting blankets, socks, and warm coats for the homeless? Adopting families for the holidays? Taking donations to spay or neuter pets in the local animal shelter? Expanding after school programs to include cooking or art?

There are obviously many ways to get involved. Maybe your community needs a web-savvy person to coordinate non-profit organizations in one convenient place. If that is your thing, set it up, then let them know. You can find a list of all non-profit organizations in your area on the IRS website.

Giving Tuesday is a great way to continue the spirit of the holiday season all through the year. Like the beautiful spiral of stained glass, there are ways to incorporate giving throughout the year. Consider making a monthly donation to your favorite charity or making volunteering a regular part of your family’s life. Every bit counts. Consider how a few dollars or a few hours of your time can improve someone else’s life… and your own!

For more information on the benefits of volunteering, check out this report by the Corporation for National and Community Service. How will you give back on Giving Tuesday?

Image by Alicia Lee via Flickr


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