Today is National Philanthropy Day, a special day every year where we recognize and celebrate the generosity of those who give to organizations like United Way of Calgary and Area. Of course, everyone has different reasons for acts of philanthropy, but did you know that acts of generosity can make us happier and healthier humans?

We are hardwired for connection, but the pandemic has made it harder for us to seek out these basic human needs. Luckily, there are ways in which United Way can help us maintain and foster a sense of caring and community through simple acts of giving.

With Giving Tuesday just around the corner on November 30th, we are sharing a concept from Dr. Tracy Brower brought to our attention during the 2021 Kick-Off. A key focus of her presentation is how the act of giving isn’t just good for our communities, but how giving brings us positive gains in our own mental and physical health.

1. We are happier  

Acts of generosity and kindness release a chemical called Oxytocin into our brains. It creates the same feeling we get when we hug a loved one, kiss someone special, or bond with our children. It has been called “the love hormone.” However, Dr. Waguih William Ishak from Cedars-Sinai calls the feeling we get during an act of kindness “the helper’s high.”

This naturally occurring chemical lift is why we get the warm fuzzies when helping a friend, volunteering or donating. An instant mood improvement is just a simple act of giving away!

2. It reduces the risk of depression

A study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychology points to a link between compassionate acts, reduced feelings of depression and anxiety, and increased feelings of purpose. Clinically depressed participants in the study saw their depressive symptoms improve over six weeks while they focused on compassionate goals and acts instead of those focused on self-image goals. Long story short, focusing on ways to help others creates positive change in how we feel about ourselves and our lives.

3. We sleep better 

We’ve established that giving creates a feeling of purpose, but when we take that one step further, we see that a sense of purpose creates long-lasting benefits like better sleep. A 2017 study from Sleep Science and Practice shows a clear correlation between overall sleep quality and adults who say they have developed a sense of purpose in their lives.

Regardless of age, gender, location or education, all participants who felt a sense of greater purpose in their lives slept better and longer than their counterparts.

4. You will live longer

It seems like there’s a never-ending quest to find the fountain of youth, but the secret to a long life could lie with acts of kindness and philanthropy. According to a 2002 issue of Psychological Science, older people who help others and their community reduce their risk of dying by nearly 60 percent.

The study points to a link between the benefits of social contact and the evolutionary advantages of helping others. Are humans naturally hardwired to give their time and income to improve our community? It certainly seems this way, as the results point to a longer, happier and more satisfying life.

5. Reduced blood pressure 

Stress is hard on our bodies. We sleep less, move less and our blood pressure increases. The Mayo Health Clinic points to a link between acts of kindness and philanthropy with a rise in cortisol and a decrease in blood pressure, both of which create long-term health benefits. The last two years haven’t been easy on any of us, but the path to de-stressing our lives could very well involve giving back to our communities.

If you have found a natural boost to your mental and physical well-being by giving to United Way, we encourage you to share this message with your friends, family and networks in the lead-up to Giving Tuesday 2021. On November 30th, United Way of Calgary and Area will be sharing an important message of how even small acts of philanthropy can make a massive difference to people in our community. In the meantime, we encourage you to learn about how our Match Program can maximize your gift, thanks to the generosity of an outstanding group of United Way donors.

Grow your gift today