Want To Do Something Good For Your Health? Try Being Generous


Published:

Every day, we are confronted with choices about how to spend our money. Whether it’s thinking about picking up the tab at a group lunch or when a charity calls asking for a donation, we are faced with the decision to behave generously or not.

Research suggests that spending money on others can improve happiness, but can it also improve your physical health?

There is some evidence that donating time can improve physical health, but no one has looked at whether donating money has the same effect.

So my colleagues and I at the University of British Columbia decided to conduct an experiment to find out if spending money on others could lower blood pressure, which will be published in the journal Health Psychology in December.

Helpful People Might Be Healthier

A 1999 study examining whether volunteering had an effect on mortality provided initial evidence for an association between helping others and physical health. In the study, adults age 55 and older reported how many organizations they helped, how many hours they spent volunteering, and then underwent a physical exam.

Researchers controlled for several factors, including how healthy participants were when the study began and their available social support. After five years the adults who reported providing more help to others were 44% more likely to be alive.

In a more recent study, researchers measured blood pressure and volunteering once at baseline and again four years later. They found evidence that older adults who volunteered at least four hours per week in the 12 months prior to the baseline blood pressure measurement were less likely to develop high blood pressure four years later.

Additional studies suggest that volunteering is associated with greater physical health in part because volunteering helps to buffer against stress and prevents against declines in functional health, such as declines in walking speed and physical strength.

Children pass out thank you cards to hundreds of volunteers to thank them for building a new playground for children of military families at Fort Meade, MD, as part of the 9/11 Day of Service and Remembrance. © Fort George G. Meade Public Affairs Office via Flickr CC

So Does Being Helpful Cause Better Health?

It might seem simple – helping is good for your health. But so far, most research studying the health benefits of helping have been correlational. These studies cannot determine whether helping others actually causes improvements in physical health or just happens to be related to it.

Also, most research has focused on the health benefits of volunteering one’s time. As it turns out, people think about time and money in vastly different ways. For example, whereas thinking about time leads people to prioritize social connections, thinking about money can lead people to distance themselves from others.

It remains unclear whether the benefits of generosity extend to donating money. Our latest work provides the first empirical evidence that this decision might also have clinically relevant implications for physical health.

Can Spending Money On Others Lower Blood Pressure?

We gave 128 older adults (ages 65-85) US$40 a week for three weeks. Half of our participants were randomly assigned to spend the money on themselves and half were told to spend it on others. We told participants to spend their $40 payment all in one day and to save the receipts from the purchases they had made.

We measured participants’ blood pressure before, during, and after they spent their study payments. We chose to examine blood pressure in this study because we can measure it reliably in the lab, and because high blood pressure is a significant health outcome – having chronically elevated blood pressure (hypertension) is responsible for 7.5 million premature deaths each year.

What did we find? Among participants who were previously diagnosed with high blood pressure (N=73), spending money on others significantly reduced their blood pressure over the course of the study. Critically, the magnitude of these effects was comparable to the benefits of interventions such as anti-hypertensive medication and exercise.

The participants who were previously diagnosed with high blood pressure, and who were assigned to spend money on themselves, showed no change in blood pressure during the study. As expected, for people who didn’t have high blood pressure, there was no benefit from spending money on others.

Whom You Spend Money On Matters

Interestingly, we found tentative evidence that how people spent their money mattered for promoting the benefits of financial generosity. People seemed to benefit most from spending money on others they felt closest to. This finding is consistent with previous research from our lab showing that people derive the most satisfaction from spending money on others when they splurge on close friends and family.

For instance, the first participant in our study was a war veteran. He donated his payments to a school built in honor of a friend he had served with in the Vietnam War. Another participant donated her payments to a charity that had helped her granddaughter survive anorexia.

Of course, there is still a lot to learn about when and for whom the health benefits of financial generosity emerge.

© Kevin Baird via Flickr CCFor example, we don’t know a lot about how or how much people should spend on others to enjoy long-lasting health benefits. Indeed, research suggests that the positive benefits of new circumstances can disappear quickly. Thus, to sustain the health benefits of financial generosity, it might be necessary to engage in novel acts of financial generosity, while prioritizing people that you are closest to.

And financial generosity might not always benefit health. Drawing from research on caregiving, financial generosity might provide benefits only when it does not incur overwhelming personal costs. After reading this article, you probably should think twice before donating your entire life savings to charity, because the stress of helping so extensively could undermine any potential benefits.

Although more research is needed to replicate these results, our initial findings provide some of the strongest evidence to date that daily decisions related to engaging in financial generosity can have causal benefits for physical health.

Stepping toward better health (and happiness) may be as simple as spending your next $20 generously.

Ashley Whillans is a PhD student in Social & Health Psychology and a Public Scholar at the University of British Columbia. Her passion is rooted in putting science to work to solve real world problems within organizations, companies, and the government.

See also:
Weekly Musings: Alternatives To .Org Charitable Holiday Gifting
How To Be Great By Doing Good

Edit Module
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags

Daily Astrology

October 20, 2018

The waxing Pisces Moon arouses a great many sensitivities. Moods may vary, up and down, from moment to moment. Handle partners with care. A slight provocation can prompt a surprisingly strong emotional response. Interests may be short-lived as attention…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

October 2018

October 14 - 18 Join the acclaimed Grandmaster William C. C. Chen for an intensive five-day Tai Chi Chuan Fall Retreat. Knowledge of the Yang-style short form is a requirement for participation....

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Eco Village
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Website »

More information

October 14 - November 19 60 PDAs A 36 day retreat in which acclaimed Qigong master, Junfeng Li, will meditate and practice not only Sheng Zhen Gong daily, but will also share traditions that...

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Eco Village
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

Lunare is open to magickal vendors and holistic practitioners wishing to offer their spiritual goods and services to an audience interested in all things mystical. General admission to...

Cost: Free general admission, lecture tickets $15

Where:
Hunt Memorial Building
6 Main St
Nashua, NH  03064
View map »


Sponsor: Lunare Mystics
Telephone: 603-801-2113
Contact Name: Alyssa O'Mara
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Join Psychic Medium Diane Lewis for gallery style readings. Diane will be connecting to spirit delivering messages from those who have crossed over. Don't miss this free event sponsored by...

Cost: Free

Where:
Hopkinton Public Library
13 Main Street
Hopkinton, MA, MA  01748
View map »


Sponsor: Hopkinton Public Library
Telephone: 617-645-6415
Contact Name: Diane Lewis
Website »

More information

Break emotional patterns that keep you stuck in the pain of addictive habits. Heal mental trauma through physical practices involving movement, breath, and meditation.

Where:
Yoga at the Ashram
368 Village Street
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Sponsor: Yoga At The Ashram
Telephone: (508) 376-4525
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
No Events

The class is a combination of qi gong, yoga, meditation, and relaxation followed by a cup of healing tea. The class, developed by Korean enlightened master Ilchi Lee, is based on Sundo, a...

Cost: $10

Where:
Divine Paradigm
58b Macy St
Amesbury, MA  01913
View map »


Contact Name: Brad Fanger

More information

With Carrie Rowan Wednesday evenings at 7pm, a 4-week introductory class that teaches quick energy medicine tools, mini meditations to help moms/dads and caregivers reduce stress and stay calm...

Where:
Fitzgerald Institute
Northboro, MA


Telephone: (508) 273-2610
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

October 18 - 21 Magnetic-harmonic vibrational therapist, Jay Emmanuel, A.K., N.S.,V.M. shares powerful energy techniques that use the forces of sounds produced by the human voice in combination...

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Retreat Center
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

Course participant experiences:  “After this course, I learned how to recognize where I hold my tension and release it.”  “My favorite part of the program is the...

Cost: $650

Where:
CHA Center for Mindfulness & Compassion
26 Central Street
2nd Floor Community Room
Somerville, MA  02143
View map »


Sponsor: CHA Center for Mindfulness & Compassion
Telephone: 617-591-6132
Contact Name: Bridget Kiley
Website »

More information

The H.E.A.R.T. Program® (Health Empowerment and Real Transformation) is an innovative holistic curriculum addressing the current health crisis and epidemics of obesity, heart disease, and...

Cost: Free

Where:
Wilbraham Senior Center
45 Post Office Park, #4502
Wilbraham, MA  01095
View map »


Sponsor: Harmony Way
Telephone: 413-636-2475
Contact Name: Michelle Caron
Website »

More information

Daily practice for peace, healing, Christ mindedness, meditation, awakening.

Where:
Milton, MA


Telephone: 617-696-5685
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

14 CEU Credits for Massage/Bodywork Therapists! Oct 19-21: Chi Nei Tsang And...pre-weekend women only event: Oct 18: Women’s Sexual Ecstacy - 1-6pm/6CEUs Chi Nei...

Cost: Please see our website

Where:
Eastover Estate & Eco Village
430 East St.
Lenox, MA  01240
View map »


Telephone: 866-264-5139
Contact Name: Yingxing Wang
Website »

More information

October 19 - 20 (Workshop runs 10-5 both days) When the phase of the Sixth Sun began with the eclipse of July 11, 2010 it was time, according to Sergio’s teacher, for the ancient...

Where:
Natick Mariott Courtyard
Natick, MA


Contact Name: Sandy Corcoran
Website »

More information

With Yogi Amandeep Adi Shakti represents all divine energies. When activated, she manifests herself as creativity, prosperity, wisdom. Rare workshop uniting ancient science of Kundalini...

Where:
Yoga at the Ashram
368 Village St
Millis, MA  02054
View map »


Telephone: (508) 376-4525
Website »

More information

Connect with the ancient wisdom of yoga. Learn how yoga practices are designed to address life’s problems, such as work stress, relationship difficulties, and common mental health issues. Be...

Cost: $40

Where:
Yogalife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Lower Level
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-867-3969
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

No previous experience is required for this Friday evening event. It is essential for students who are unfamiliar with using the Pathway Prayer Process© and who plan to attend the 2-day...

Cost: $35

Where:
Circles of Wisdom - New location late Summer '18
386 Merrimack Street
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

Bee Kind Music Class with Carrie Rowan inspires a love to music in little ones. 10am on Fridays for 8 weeks at Playtown Express in Southboro. To register call (508) 480-0022 or...

Where:
Playtown Express
150 Cordaville Road
Southboro, MA
View map »


Telephone: 508-273-2610
Website »

More information

The class is a combination of qi gong, yoga, meditation, and relaxation followed by a cup of healing tea. The class, developed by Korean enlightened master Ilchi Lee, is based on Sundo, a...

Cost: $10

Where:
Divine Paradigm
58b Macy St
Amesbury, MA  01913
View map »


Contact Name: Brad Fanger

More information

“For breath is life, and if you breathe well you will live long on earth.” — Sanskrit Proverb Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using the healing...

Cost: $40 (limited hardship rates available)

Where:
Museum of Modern Renaissance
115 College Avenue
Somerville, MA  02144
View map »


Sponsor: HolotropicMA
Contact Name: Allen Howell M.Ed. LMHC
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Refresh, refocus, simplify. Discover easy tools and strategies to prepare for an incredible holiday season. 8:00–8:30 Registration open 8:30–8:35 Welcome 8:35–9:20 Circle...

Cost: $99

Where:
Women’s Health Resource Center
9 Hanover Street
Lebanon, NH  03766
View map »


Sponsor: Almstrom Financial, Green Mt. Hypnosis, Patti Friedman, Eva Loomis
Telephone: (603) 650-2600
Contact Name: Women’s Health Resource Center

More information

October 20 - 21 Early Bird Special! Register before September 30 and save $45! Prerequisite: Be familiar with accessing the Akashic Records through the Pathway Prayer Process© either...

Cost: $350 before September 30

Where:
Circles of Wisdom - New location late Summer '18
386 Merrimack Street
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


Sponsor: Circles of Wisdom
Telephone: 978-474-8010
Contact Name: Cathy Kneeland
Website »

More information

See all that is new at Dragonfly! Come and meet our new practitioners and teachers and learn about the innovative holistic modalities that are being offered. Participate in free classes, see...

Where:
Dragonfly Wellness Center
176 Jackson Rd.
Devens, MA  MA
View map »


Telephone: 978-487-7181
Website »

More information

October 20 & 21, 10:30am-6:30pm Practices and Approaches for PTSD, Depression and Anxiety with Erin Byron, MA, E-RYT500, C-IAYT, YACEP, Licensed Mental Health Professional Experiment with...

Cost: $325

Where:
YogaLife Institute of NH
6 Chestnut Street
Exeter, NH  03833
View map »


Sponsor: YogaLife Institute of NH
Telephone: 603-867-3969
Contact Name: Alice Bentley
Website »

More information

The shamanic rattle is a sacred tool that can be used to shift into an altered state of consciousness, sense and track energy, and heal the energetic body, which contains the codes underlying...

Cost: $40

Where:
Akasha Studio
20 Birch Street
Roslindale, MA  02131
View map »


Sponsor: Miriam Katz, Shamanic Healer
Telephone: 617-545-5142
Contact Name: Miriam Katz
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...
Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit Module Edit ModuleShow Tags