The early days of any new year is a time for intention setting. Whether you are charting a course for work goals, hobbies and experiences or personal health and wellness, January is a time for starting good habits to carry us through the next 12 months.

Did you know that there is a practice that can boost your mental, physical, and emotional health while simultaneously creating better tomorrows in your community? Philanthropy benefits others and sets a positive tone for the year ahead. It cultivates a mindset of gratitude, fostering a sense of empowerment and optimism.

To help you start 2024 on the right foot, we did the research and pulled together five ways giving back is good for you.

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.

Giving provides a sense of accomplishment and purpose, allowing individuals to reflect on their values and priorities as they embark on a new year. You can create a ripple effect by making a positive impact through charitable acts, inspiring others to join in and collectively contribute to building a more compassionate and supportive society.

Start a new best practice in 2024 by donating to United Way of Calgary and Area. You can even create an ongoing giving practice, allowing you to invest 12 months of the year in your community.

Start giving today