Generosity is no longer the selfless act we’ve long thought it to be. Studies now suggest that one of the biggest benefactors of generosity is the person who is dishing it out.
Like a healthy diet, exercise, and good genes, generosity may increase your life span. A 2003 research study at the University of Michigan reveals that the positive effects of generosity include improving one’s mental and physical health and promoting longevity. In another Michigan study, which traced 2,700 people over 10 years, researchers found that men who did regular volunteer work had death rates 2.5 times lower than men who didn’t. Generosity can help reduce stress, support one’s physical health and enhance one’s sense of purpose.
So what is it about generosity that makes it so vital to a happy and healthy life? First, it’s important to note that the form of generosity that most benefits us isn’t measured in a dollar amount or a physical gain. What matters is the sensitivity we offer another person. The more directly we see our personal efforts impact someone else, the more we gain from the experience of giving.
The second direct benefit we gain from giving is that generosity inherently shifts our focus off of ourselves. While it’s important to maintain a healthy level of self-awareness and sensitivity to oneself, often the focus we put on ourselves is filtered through a negative lens. Many of our thoughts about ourselves are tinged with criticism, stress, doubt, uncertainty and obsession, none of which do any good for our level of confidence and success.
People often mistakenly assume that being self-centered means being egotistical or vain. However, being self-centered can mean spending too much time listening to a “critical inner voice” inside our heads that critiques our every move and tells us we are failing in one or another area of our lives. Generosity distracts us from the scathing insults of this inner voice while creating quite a strong argument against it. It is difficult to prove we are worthless when we are watching someone else benefit from our actions.
Generosity is a natural confidence builder and a natural repellent of self-hatred. Not only does it make use feel better about ourselves, but it actively combats feelings of isolation and depression. People who battle depression have been shown to benefit from volunteering, as it gives them a sense of value and purpose while placing them in a social environment.
–Lisa Firestone, Huffington Post