Mental Health

The Joy of Giving—How It Can Help You Find Purpose

Sharing is caring not only for others, but also for yourself. Here are all the ways the joy of giving can benefit you, and how you can get started.

By Shreya Maji
03 Dec 2021

In American author O. Henry’s short story “The Gift of the Magi”, a young couple give up their most prized possessions in order to buy each other a Christmas gift. While this act of generosity and kindness could sound excessive or even foolish, recent scientific research published in Psychological Science takes the side of the “foolish children”, as the author called them: it shows that the joy of giving a gift is always greater than the joy of receiving one. Moreover, hedonic adaptation, a phenomenon in which you get used to happy events and no longer feel similar levels of happiness from them, is absent in the happiness received from giving to someone. This means the pleasure you receive from sharing and giving will always remain the same. What’s more: the happiness you get from giving to others has enormous physical and mental health benefits for yourself.

1. Improves your mood

Giving activates regions in your brain associated with reward and pleasure. This triggers a rush of feel-good neurotransmitters in your brain, such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin, causing a phenomenon known as “helper’s high” A 2018 study published in Elsevier shows that this is a feeling of “elation, exhilaration and increased energy, then a period of calm and serenity”, similar to the endorphin rush after intense physical exercise.


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2. Relieves stress


Biochemical analysis of the helper’s high shows a significant reduction in stress hormones in the body, says the same study. Research published in 2015 in the Journal of Occupational and Environmental Medicine also shows that being generous and taking part in charity or volunteering activities can improve your mental health and lessen work-life conflicts, thus reducing your associated stress.

3. Helps maintain healthy blood pressure

Giving to others can also protect you from developing hypertension or high blood pressure, notes a surprising study published in 2013 in the journal Psychology and Ageing. The research conducted by Carnegie Mellon University, USA, shows that by helping others, adults above 51 years of age reduced their chances of developing high blood pressure by at least 40 percent.


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4. Increases self-esteem


Sharing your resources and giving to others provides you with a sense of purpose. A 2011 study reported at the annual convention of the Association for Psychological Science, USA, shows that caring for others will help you build social bonds, which in turn will improve your confidence and boost your self-esteem. When you give selflessly to another person, your self-esteem remains elevated for a longer period of time than any personal achievement, says the study.

5. Slows down ageing

Giving to others may also help you live longer. Researchers at the University of North Carolina found a strong link between acts of kindness and ageing: the damage of telomeres (protective caps at the end of your chromosomes) is implicated in the process of getting older. Due to the secretion of oxytocin by the body during the helper’s high, the early damage of telomeres may be prevented. A 2012 study published in the journal Psychological Science confirms this: older people who provide material or emotional help to neighbours, friends and family reduce the risk of dying early by at least 60 percent. /p>


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How to Give Back to Others


"We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give,” said Winston Churchill. Sharing and giving to others do not have to be great acts; you can start with baby steps.

  • Give your favourite book or clothes to a friend.
  • Cook some food and share it with your neighbours.
  • Make the most of happy occasions like birthdays and anniversaries by taking part in charitable activities.
  • Buy food for your local orphanage, give your unused clothes to a suitable non-profit organisation, or volunteer at an animal shelter. Volunteer-based organisation Robin Hood Army distributes food to the underprivileged sections of the society in an attempt to battle food insecurity. Make a food donation to their cause.


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