By: Anne Frazier, Senior Director of Development

Is there a way to “spark joy”? No, I’m not talking about the KonMari Method, (although it definitely has its merits). I’m talking about creating happiness within. The coronavirus pandemic has certainly brought to our attention how important it is for us all to monitor our mental and physical health. And, as we approach the holiday season, it’s the perfect time to explore the “joy of giving.”

First, there’s a scientific reason for that joyful feeling. The act of giving actually brings up what some people call the “helper’s high.” When you give to others, it activates your mesolimbic system, also known as your brain’s reward center. The system is responsible for releasing endorphins, making you feel all warm and fuzzy. That means lower stress and increased self-esteem, all from just helping someone out! Even better, recipients of kindness generally want to keep paying it forward. That’s a domino effect we all have the power to start, from writing a thank you note to paying the tab of a random stranger to establishing a scholarship for future generations.

Remember Ebenezer Scrooge? Oh, the joy he felt when he stopped being stingy and shared his wealth and time with others. With all of the mental and physical benefits, it should come as no surprise that people who give live longer, happier lives. Generosity becomes increasingly important as we age. In his book, “Why Good Things Happen to Good People,” Stephen Post reports that giving to others has been shown to increase health benefits in people with chronic illness.

Furthermore, people who volunteer are more active, and those health perks go a long way. Reduced risk of heart disease including cardiac arrest and reduced risk of stroke are just two of the major impacts giving can have on your lifespan.

A study from the University of California, Berkeley, shows the surprising results of giving. The study involved men and women over the age of 55, some of whom were involved in charity work and others who were not. The people who were involved in charity were shown to be 44% less likely to die over the five-year study period than those who didn’t volunteer.

Happy wife, happy life? Well, it turns out there is some truth to that. Generosity is one of the key factors for a happy marriage, according to a report from the National Marriage Project. And a couple that connects to a cause they decide to support together is a great way to grow closer. Across 136 countries studied, donating to charity had a similar impact on happiness levels as doubling household income. Now that’s something to write a check about!

Social distance doesn’t have to mean socially disconnected. Spending on others or giving money to charity leads to the greatest happiness boost when giving fosters social connection. A great example is donating in honor of a friend or relative to a cause they care about. Try enlisting your friends to help you on a volunteer project. It’s a great opportunity to stay connected and experience the joy of giving together.

When searching for nonprofits to support, consider your interests. Are you passionate about helping children? Supporting cancer patients or ensuring more resources are available to those struggling with mental health?

We’ve all heard that money can’t buy happiness… but if you spend it right, it does! So, the next time you’re in the checkout line and asked if you would like to make a donation, say yes. If there is a charity you have a passion for, get involved. If you want to leave a legacy benefiting the people and causes you care about, start working on your estate plan now. Let’s all light the spark and spread joy! Remember the words of Winston Churchill, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.”

ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Anne Frazier is a Senior Director of Development at Lee Health Foundation. She is an experienced executive professional with more than 22 years building relationships, strategic partnerships and raising funds within local and global communities for various national and international nonprofits. If health care is your passion, learn how you can support innovative and lifesaving health care services in Southwest Florida at Anne.Frazier@LeeHealth.org.