Giving is the act of freely parting with something and offering it to someone or something else who needs it, this could be a stranger, friend, family member, charity or the local and wider community. This can involve material giving such as money or gifts, or immaterial things like using our time, skills, knowledge and kindness to help others (Mind, 2016).
Research has found that by giving to others through acts of voluntary work has significantly predictive of better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, happiness, lower depressive symptoms and lower psychological distress (Yeung, Zhang and Kim, 2018).
Volunteering in the community has found to give people a sense of purpose and belonging and therefore increasing their life satisfaction and improving their mental health. The research found that these benefits were most significant for people who were older or who had lost their life-defining role such as being a ‘worker’ or ‘parent’ (Bradley, 1999).
‘It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson
“For it is in giving that we receive” – St. Francis of Assisi
A study found that MRI scans showed that altruistic behaviours activates the same brain system as when we receive a reward (Moll et al, 2006) suggesting that prosocial and helping behaviours may give humans a positive physical sensation which has been termed a ‘helpers high’ (Luks, 1988). Further research has found that altruism can significantly emotional wellbeing and reduce stress in the long term (Luks and Payne, 2001).
A 2012 YouGov poll found that 80% of participants agreed that being kind has had a positive influence in their own health, whilst 87% said that they felt good after they had done something for someone else.
Research has stated that human beings have a natural potential for altruism when they are functioning at a healthy capacity which promotes integrated states of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being (Cloninger and Zohar, 2010).
Fredrickson (2011) found that the act of giving to others is contagious, it suggested that when an individual gives they experience good feelings as well as making the person who is given to more likely to act kindly and give to others which as a result promotes happiness and wellbeing.
Acts of giving can take up various forms, the NHS has suggested some ways to give in day to day life;
Say thank you to someone for something they’ve done for you
Phone a relative or friend who needs support or company
Ask someone how they are and really listen to the answer
Offer to lend a hand to a stranger if you see them struggling
We are social beings. We rely upon our emotional connection with others in order to survive. Emotions are seemingly contagious for that very reason, to enable us to transfer any feelings of imminent threat to our companions so we can ‘get the hell out of there’ or ‘get ready for a fight’.
As humans, we are more than just emotional transferers, we are story tellers, we are listeners. We are responsible, not only for our own happiness, but the happiness of others. Again, the happiness of others lead to social bonds which enables survival. We need social bonds throughout our lifespan, to thrive and without these social bonds, we can feel negative and painful emotions. Similarly, we are understandably distressed when we experience conflict with others or where bonds are broken. Loneliness, or a temporarily loss of connection can be a precipitating factor for depression or anxiety, not to mention perpetuating any mental ill health a person may already be experiencing.
Even with our innate drive to connect, we appear to be losing some of the key skills that we need to enhance this connection. We are growingly becoming emotional disconnected. Disconnected, due to not being present, by being distracted, by not actively listening or by not showing empathy and compassion. The use of technology perpetuates this, where we may be remotely connected but that primitive emotional bond is not shared. We are often, simply cognitively connecting.
“Connection is why we’re here. It’s what gives us purpose and meaning to our lives”
The Action for Happiness movement identifies that relationships are one of the key factors for happiness. They describe connections are important for belonging, growth and meaning. We also know social integration has many other physical health benefits. We are more likely to have reduced stress levels and stronger immune systems if we have good social bonds.
How do we strengthen our bonds?
Put down your phone, look away from your computer, reduce distractions and be present. Listening effectively means showing genuine interest in what that person has to say and giving someone your full attention.
Tips for good listening
Find a place to talk away from distractions
Use good eye contact
Summarise what the person says, this emphasises how well you have listened.
Show empathy (if appropriate)
Be aware of your body, be open, don’t fold your arms, sit slightly to the side or walk side by side.
Ask open questions
Be aware of your judgements and don’t verbalise them.
Give positive feedback
Not only is it important to support our friends and family during times of hardship, it is equally important to be enthusiastic when they achieve or experience good news.
Be interpersonally effectively
We all experience challenges and conflicts in our relationships, we need to raise them to move forward and grow. The ability to communicate effectively and manage conflict is a skill. A great tool which people always find helpful comes from the world of Dialectal Behaviour Therapy. DEARMAN provides a great framework where you can raise issues, whilst maintaining self-respect.
Share how much you appreciate people. Thank them for the positive contributions they make to your life. A text, a letter or a simple gift to express your gratitude can be so powerful and it may encourage others to do the same. Even better, do it face to face!!
“I just wanted to take the time to say…I appreciate you, thank you for everything you do, its means so much”
Take a look at action for happiness’ challenge to get people to show appreciation for others
Every year, I start out in January with the intention of being fitter, stronger and more flexible than the previous. And, secretly hoping that I will slide into the jeans I have kept on my ‘just in case of a severe virus’ pile.
How do I get on? Probably like the other 80% of people starting out their New Year with unachievable goals…not the best! To improve on this, I thought I would do a bit of research about how we can start building better habits in 2020. It feels like a good year to start. A new decade for greatness.
Habits are very difficult to form, especially if we start out with a goal that is beyond our reach. If we were to aim to start January hoping to lose 15lb in 3 days or run a marathon by day 7 (when we are a complete novice), we would be pretty disappointed. Why? Because, as humans we tend to enjoy instant gratification, so whilst the long-term gain is great, we need to consider the smaller benefits in the interim to reduce the likelihood of giving up.
We can do this by considering exercise and its instant and long-term benefits. Research is not limited in highlighting the importance of exercise for our overall health and wellbeing and what I have been most interested in of late is the profound impact exercising can have on our mental and emotional fitness. Particularly, our happiness and general positivity. This can be seen instantly, therefore, if we are mindful of these small change’s we are more likely to continue with our goal.
Benefits of exercise
Short term benefits (post exercise)
Long term benefits
Boosts mood (lots of happy hormones!)
Increases confidence & productivity
Increased muscle tone
Reduces likelihood of heart disease & type 2 diabetes.
Increases chance of living longer
Like every year (check out my last years blog), I am going to kick start January, joining the RED community-making sure I get active each day through a variety of activities. But this time, I’m going to make clear goals and monitor my progress so that I see those small changes. Plus, making sure they are achievable goals. Hoping that I can continue this way beyond the January challenge. I want exercising every day to be a habit. I’m not going to focus on an end result, I am going to take it one day at a time, sitting back and considering any benefits I have felt post workout that day. Considering the benefits already highlighted above, I am doing this by monitoring my sleep, mood and self-confidence (via some apps and psychometric assessments)
Research suggests that habits, on average are formed after 66 days (Lally et al, 2009), but what I am really interested in is if a person completes RED January, getting active each day, if they can go on and turn an active January into an active year.
Join me in my quest to complete RED January but also in making resolutions reality.
Download their calendar and make reasonable buildable steps, SMART goals if you like.
Monitor changes (mood, sleep, self-confidence)
Take each day as a step, don’t focus on the end goal, then hopefully achieve that ‘active year’.
Watch this space! I’ll be sharing my progress with the challenge.
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