Why Giving Back Is So Good For You, According To Science

Pay it forward.

Helping others has long been a part of human civilization. When a disaster occurs, even across vast oceans, donations pour in from all over the world; international and local charities, dedicated to various causes, are abundant. There are many motivations for it, but perhaps one of the most compelling reasons is because of how we are affected by giving back. In fact, being charitable is actually good for you for a number of reasons, according to science.

Despite the pessimistic view that humans are inherently selfish — survival of the fittest and all that — scientists have found that our brains, to some degree, are also hardwired to be generous. 

In the 2000s, Jordan Grafman, a cognitive neuroscientist at Northwestern University Medical School, conducted a study that had some interesting results. He found that the pleasure and reward sections of the brain — those associated with food and sex — lit up when a person was picking charities that they deemed worth donating to

According to the 2015 World Giving Index, the United States was ranked No. 2 globally in generosity, whether giving money or volunteering time — even helping strangers was a factor measured in the survey. Myanmar came in first place and New Zealand in third.

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The U.S.' seeming proclivity for giving is great news for its generosity as a society — and for Americans themselves. Here's why.

Giving feels good.

A study from 2008 asked hundreds of Americans how much they earned, how they spent their money, and how happy they were. 

Researchers discovered that the amount they gave to charity or spent their money on others had a positive correlation to how happy they were. In other words, giving to others made people feel good. 

You live longer.

The University of Exeter Medical School found indications that volunteering can keep you mentally healthy, increase your longevity, and improve the quality of your life. Perhaps the elixir of life is simply to help others.

Giving strengthens bonds.

When was the last time you received a thoughtful, personable gift from a loved one? A gift can show how well you know a person and what you think of them, and can help fortify your relationship.

Altruism is good for your heart — literally.

Researchers at Carnegie Mellon University discovered that those who volunteered at least 200 hours each year decreased their risk of hypertension or high blood pressure by a whopping 40 percent compared to those who didn't volunteer. 

(With the exception of Katniss Everdeen, whose high blood pressure levels probably shot through the roof during her ordeal.)

Cover image via waranan / iStock