Yes that magical time of the year is upon us where we frantically run about trying to get the special people in our lives that special gift or take time out of our busy schedules to serve others. In all of the madness that is the holiday season it is interesting to note that the act of gift-giving or service has some psychological benefits of better health and less stress and that is pretty neat. Dr. Michael Poulin, an assistant professor at the University of Buffalo, had this to say on the topic:
You may have heard that stress is bad for health. Well, it turns out that giving to others may undo the negative effects of stress. In a recent study, my colleagues and I found that there was no link between stress and health among people who reported helping their friends and neighbors in the past year. But among people who didn’t engage in such helping, stressful life events predicted decreased odds of survival over the next five years.
Before you run out to the nearest soup kitchen to get your daily dose of helping, though, I should point out that there’s a catch: helping appears to only be good for you if you really care about those you’re helping. In two separate studies, I found that volunteering on behalf of strangers also weakens the link between stress and health—but only for volunteers who have generally positive views of other people. In other words, helping may be good for you specifically to the extent you’re likely to experience compassion for those you help.
Together, these studies suggest a potentially surprising way in which our connections to others affect our health. But I also think the link between helping and health, by being written in our biology, sheds new light on what it means that humans are, as Aristotle said, the social animal: we’re not just drawn to others because of what they can do for us; we’re also drawn to others because of what we can do for them.
So as we go about the time of year in joy, celebration, happiness, and goodwill, let us also remember the psychological benefits of doing so. The more we do the better we tend to feel and that is the greatest gift of all!
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