The Mental Health Benefits of Giving Back

When we think of generosity, we typically think of how our actions affect others—but what about the effects of generosity on our own minds and bodies? Studies have shown that acts of giving are linked to increased mental health and wellness for all involved.

When you take initiative to volunteer, donate money, or otherwise support a worthwhile cause, it makes you feel good. You know that your actions have contributed to the betterment of an individual’s life and wellbeing, and you experience euphoria knowing that you have done well in the world.

This is because acts of altruism—no matter how small or large—activate the brain’s mesolimbic pathway and contribute to feelings of gratification and fulfillment. The brain releases happiness chemicals like dopamine throughout the body, aiding your sense of inner peace, tranquility, and sense of purpose. “Even just the thought of giving money to a specific charity has this effect on the brain,” one study shows.

Physical benefits don’t disappoint, either. Those who perform acts of generosity are proven to have lower blood pressure, less anxiety and depression, and lower risks of dementia and cardiovascular problems. Some studies also show a correlation between philanthropy and increased lifespan.

Point blank, being generous is not just about making others feel good. It’s also about feeling good about yourself. As one researcher writes, “Generosity is both a natural confidence builder and a natural repellant of self-hatred … when we see someone else benefitting from our kind actions, it is hard for the inner voice to argue that we are worthless.”

What are you waiting for? Here are a few ways you can give back and feel great today:

  1. Buy a coffee or turnpike toll for the customer behind you.
  2. Leave a thank you note for a kind coworker or a hefty tip for your favorite waitperson.
  3. Run a race sponsored by a local charity.
  4. Volunteer with a local non-profit, homeless shelter, or food bank.
  5. Pick up stray litter and throw it away in a designated trash can.
  6. Donate gently used clothing to a secondhand store.
  7. Shop wisely and support brands who give back.