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How to get the helper's high

Most of us know that warm fuzzy feeling of doing good work, whether it is rounding up cans of food to feed the less fortunate, donating school supplies for needy kids or perhaps shoveling an elderly neighbor’s walk. But did you know that doing good for others also boosts your physical and mental health?

It’s true! Studies have shown that giving to others can boost your immune system, lower stress, help you live longer and increase your happiness.

In one study, people diagnosed with high blood pressure were given money and told to spend it in a short amount of time. One group was told to spend the money on themselves, and the other group was instructed to spend their dollars on others.  The first group pampered themselves with everything from event tickets, to clothing and massages. The other group took food to firefighters, toys to children, and one veteran donated his money to honor a soldier who had served alongside him in Vietnam.

The group that spent their money on others felt good about their giving; however, the benefits of giving went well beyond that.  While the people who spent money on themselves showed no change in their blood pressure, people who used their money in generous ways showed a lower blood pressure similar to changes from engaging in regular exercise.

The warm fuzzy feeling has shown up in brain research, too.  Researchers from the National Institutes of Health found that giving stimulates the reward center of the brain, releasing endorphins in a similar way to when eating chocolate, but zero calories!  The result is what is known as the “Helper’s High.” “Giving to others gives us a little bit of a rush,” says Elizabeth Svoboda, author of “What Makes a Hero?”  “It might feel like getting a gift yourself or winning a big prize.  There really is something in it for you.”

With the holidays fast approaching, our thoughts turn to giving gratitude and connecting with others.  So, get your own helper’s high by giving.  Whether you volunteer your time, buy a gift, donate money to a charity or reach out to someone you’ll not only help others you’ll likely boost your own physical and mental health.