There are few feelings in the world that surpass that of knowing you helped someone - whether it's through a financial donation, or a mentoring program, or giving up your seat on a crowded bus. It feels good - and is good. So good, in fact, that some researchers have found that the effect of giving, of altruisms small and big, is similar to the so-called runner's high (the rush of endorphins). But unlike exercise euphoria, this rush can last a long time. The evidence: Ninety percent of people who experience this high grade their health condition as better than those who haven't. The reason: It seems that charity might really start at home. Your thoughts about helping others help you. They seem to be able to do things that strengthen your immune system, boost positive emotions, decrease pain, and provide stress relief.
Separate studies show that charitable heart-attack patients recover faster than those who aren't, and those who do volunteer work have death rates two and half times lower than those who don't. But here's the catch. When you give something to somebody, we want you to find a way to allow them to have the dignity to pass it along to someone else. Though people very often need help, they also don't want to feel like charity cases. They want to feel like they can pass something along to others. This also makes giving more attractive since you are really priming the pump of a chain reaction that will help many more people than the one group you targeted with your kindness. So be explicit in your giving and ask how the recipient will pass it forward. Try to pick groups where this expectation is clear.
While many people think they should give to charity or do something to give back, that's not the only concept that's important. It's not the obligation to give back, but the privilege of doing something bigger than yourself. You don't have to donate money, just time, and passion. You don't have an obligation to society to find a bigger purpose - you have an obligation to your own health and happiness. And the more you value what you are doing with your mind, the more you'll do healthier things with your body.
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