The holidays are looming. Many of us are rushing around trying to get gifts for friends and family. Others of us are trying to find places to volunteer this year. Some of us are just trying to think of small ways to help others. Regardless of what holiday you celebrate, you’re likely getting into the “giving spirit.” But with breast cancer, how can we give to others?
Some women with breast cancer may view the holidays more as a painful reminder of what things used to be like. It can be a challenge to find joy during the holiday season when you’re dealing with difficult times. But the act of giving can actually bring you a great amount of joy. Even giving small things brings a boost of happiness.
Like Winston Churchill once said: “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give”
Why Do People Give?
Everyone has their own reason for giving:
“It’s what God wants.”
“It’s only right for me to share.”
“I have an excess and others need what I have.”
There’s no shortage of reasons that people use to explain their giving. At its core, though, giving makes us happy. It improves self-esteem and brings joy even in the darkest of times.
This boost in emotion is often referred to as the “helper’s high.” The phenomenon was first documented in the early 1990s by Alan Luks. Since then there’s been a growing amount of research on the subject. Scientists have found that performing random acts of kindness every day boosts happiness. Volunteer work results in lower levels of depression. And those who feel that they’ve made a positive impact on the world feel more positive at night. Similar benefits have also been reported when people spend money on others.
During the holiday season, people give to others in a wide variety of ways. You’ve likely experienced the extra joy that giving brings. When you find the perfect gift for someone and they love it, you feel happiness. Maybe you notice this happiness when you are working at a soup kitchen and you can tell that someone is grateful to just have a warm meal. No matter what the setting, you know that giving can improve your mood immensely.
How Giving Makes You Happier and Healthier
Giving affects the brain and body in a huge variety of ways. There have been some documented downsides to giving, such as increased stress and frustration. Still, the benefits far outweigh the negatives.
So what, exactly, does giving do?
Wondering what’s the reason for the “helper’s high”? Well, this is where endorphins come in. Endorphins are a natural way of making your body feel good. You’ve probably heard the term thrown around a lot when people talk about exercise. That’s because they’re responsible for creating that good feeling you get when you exercise.
Okay, I know. If the prospect of good feelings doesn’t motivate me to exercise, why should it motivate me to give?
Giving is often easier than exercise. It can take up less time and effort than exercise does. Yet you still get those good feelings that endorphins produce. Besides, the prospect of increased endorphins doesn’t have to motivate you. There are plenty of other things that giving does.
Makes You More Grateful
Everyone experiences that whole “grass is greener” emotion every once in awhile. If you’re dealing with breast cancer, you’ve likely experienced that emotion a lot. Giving to others helps you feel more grateful for what you have. Now I’m not saying that you should disregard the bad things in your life. Giving won’t make them go away. But sometimes giving puts you in a situation where you see how others live.
Having the opportunity to see what others don’t have helps you appreciate what you do have. Everyone struggles through life in a different way. Another person’s struggles don’t negate your own. Yet a reminder of the good things in your life can push your negative mentality toward a more positive one. Further, helping someone else distracts your mind from your own struggles. Sometimes this simple change in your outlook can bring about huge changes in your emotional well-being.
Improves Physical Health
Your mental well-being is not the only thing that is affecting by giving. There have been some reports that giving promotes better physical health as well. People who volunteer tend to live longer than people who do not volunteer. Volunteers also have better health than their non-volunteering counterparts. In addition, caregivers have a lower mortality rate. Granted, high-strain caregiving negatively affects health.
But you get my main point: low-stress giving improves your physical health.
Finding Joy by Giving Throughout the Year
The joy of giving isn’t just reserved for the holidays. You can reap these benefits throughout the year. And you can get these benefits without putting in a huge amount of effort or spending large amounts of money. Here are a few simple ways that you can find joy through giving regardless of the season.
- Pay it forward: this concept caught on a couple years ago. It seems like every other day I was reading about a new “pay it forward” behavior. Regardless, the concept is a powerful one. Paying for the coffee of the person behind you or leaving some extra money to help with someone’s movie ticket can make you feel better. You may not always see a person’s reaction. Yet you still know that you made a small difference in someone else’s life.
- Hold the door: it’s small. It’s minor. It’s often a forgotten politeness in today’s world. Holding the door for someone helps you feel more involved. Rather than being distracted by your phone or friend, pay attention to the other people around you. Sure you’ll get some people who couldn’t care less that you held the door for them. But sometimes you’ll get a genuine “thank you” and that can feel pretty good.
- Adopt: I’m not talking about adopting a pet or a child. I’m talking about one of the many “Adopt” programs that exist in this world. You can adopt a soldier or sponsor a child. You can even just become someone’s pen pal. Either way, you’re helping someone. Sending a small amount of money every month or a basic letter may seem unimportant to you. Yet, it can make a great deal of difference to the recipient.
- Feed the hungry: again, this point might be a little confusing. This is not about volunteering a soup kitchen or putting together a food drive. It’s much simpler than that. Whenever you go out to eat and you have leftovers try giving that extra food to someone who is homeless. You’ve already paid for the food so it doesn’t cost you anything. Plus you know that the food you didn’t finish won’t go to waste. Instead it will be a meaningful gesture to someone with an empty stomach.
- Acts of service: this is vague, I know. But that’s kind of the point. At the end of the day any act of helping someone else can make you feel better. If you love baking, make some cookies for someone who had a bad day. If you have an elderly neighbor, offer to pick up their groceries for them. We are presented with many opportunities to help out every day. These sorts of acts can mean to world to others despite being simple for you.
Needless to say, there are plenty of ways you can heal yourself by giving to others. Finding the joy in giving doesn’t have to be difficult. And it doesn’t have to be time-consuming.
In the words of the poet Lucy Larcom, “If the world seems cold to you, kindle fires to warm it.”