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

January 20, 2019

This is a powerful day. The Sun enters Aquarius during the early morning hours while the nearly Full Moon chugs along through her own sign of Cancer. Venus is at odds with Neptune, setting the stage for tonight’s Supermoon lunar eclipse. While the Sun…
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Alternative Health Directory

Browse all listings »

Edit ModuleShow Tags
Edit ModuleShow Tags

Calendar

January 2019

Join acupuncturist and eastern medicine specialist Linda Davis to: 1) Learn and practice a simple method to access your pendulum’s divination powers; 2) experience various types of...

Cost: $20–$25

Where:
Portal Crystal Gallery
489 Massachusetts Ave
Arlington, MA  02474
View map »


Telephone: 781-859-5373
Website »

More information

Once used as a diagnostic tool for physicians, the palms and hands give us insight into physical health and emotional well-being. Learning to decipher the differences in hands and the meanings...

Cost: $250

Where:
The Soul Purpose
1225 Gar Highway
Swansea, MA  02777
View map »


Sponsor: The Soul Purpose
Telephone: 774-264-1329
Contact Name: Jessica Kozak
Website »

More information

Celebrating the new year, the new you!  Come detox, relax and get your new year readings while you recharge in our sanctuary! We have a fun line up of readers and healers providing...

Cost: $60- 3 Service package special; $25 - single service

Where:
Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
68 Stiles Road
Suite A
Salem, NH  03079
View map »


Sponsor: Healing Power of Flowers - Heaven and Earth
Telephone: 603-275-7688
Contact Name: Stacey Smith
Website »

More information

Did you know that forgiveness heals? It can reduce depression, ease anxiety, increase our well-being, and facilitate the body's natural healing response. Many of us may get the concept of...

Cost: $60

Where:
private office
North Andover, MA  01845


Sponsor: Diana Harris
Telephone: 978-973-6637
Contact Name: Diana Harris
Website »

More information

The most powerful things in the universe are invisible. Energy which is the most powerful of physical and spiritual forces is invisible. The most precious and important things that matter in...

Cost: Free

Where:
Inner Space Meditation Center & Gallery
1110 Massachusetts Ave.
Cambridge, MA  02138
View map »


Telephone: 617-547-1110
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Show More...
Show Less...

MBSR: Mindful Based Stress Reduction Mindfulness, as taught in the MBSR program, is recognized worldwide as the gold standard in mindfulness training and is one of the greatest...

Cost: Free

Where:
Life Care PT
38 Southwest Cutoff
Northborough, MA  01532
View map »


Sponsor: The Center for Resilient Living
Telephone: 508-556-7022
Contact Name: Ginny Wholley
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

“Master your breath, let the self be in bliss, contemplate on the sublime within you.” —Krishnamacharya Join us for an evening of deep exploration and transformation using...

Cost: $30 (limited hardship rates available)

Where:
Spontaneous Celebrations
45 Danforth Street
Jamaica Plain, MA  02130
View map »


Telephone: 617-233-6410
Contact Name: Allen B. Howell
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Listen as Lauren channels messages from loved ones to prove you are never alone. An intimate event with tested and endorsed research medium.  Visit website for tickets. Doors open at 6:30...

Cost: $50

Where:
The Spiritual Path with Lauren Bortolami
129 N. Main Street
Mansfield, MA  02048
View map »


Sponsor: Lauren Bortolami Robbins
Telephone: 508-339-8111
Contact Name: Lauren Robbins
Website »

More information

With Sherri Snyder-Roche. This yoga workshop will explore self-compassion, self-love and pushing through discomfort to help your recovery process. Recovery from divorce, eating disorders,...

Cost: $95 for 6 weeks or $17 drop in

Where:
State of Grace Yoga and Wellness Center
104 E. Hartford Avenue, Unit A
Uxbridge, MA  01569
View map »


Telephone: 508-278-2818
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Women Rising Together—Women’s Workshop This workshop is designed for women who are facing a challenge and would like to come together with other spiritually minded women to explore...

Cost: $25

Where:
Apple Tree Arts
1 Grafton Common
Grafton, MA  01519
View map »


Contact Name: Christine Johnson

More information

Intuitive medium Laura Wooster is honored to present this evening of spirit messages from your loved ones on the other side. She will deliver evidential messages of love, hope, and comfort from...

Cost: $25

Where:
Circles of Wisdom
386 Merrimack Street
Suite 1-A
Methuen, MA  01844
View map »


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

More information

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

Show More...
Show Less...

Instructor: Stacey Piwinski Adult Level Spend half a winter’s day working with warm, cozy, and colorful yarn! Each participant will learn to weave their own circular weaving, starting...

Cost: $65

Where:
Creative Spirit
80 Washington Street
Marblehead, MA  01945
View map »


Sponsor: Creative Spirit
Telephone: 781-797-0389
Contact Name: Peyton Pugmire
Website »

More information

Start this intensive January 26 This is an excellent series for those who are on a healing journey of any sort, as we access the Akashic field of energy to clear your path and...

Cost: $860 or three payments of $366

Where:
, MA


Telephone: (978) 835-0005
Contact Name: Nancy

More information

Holistic Problem-Solving with Dr. HermanSJr. Tired of missing opportunities that could further your life, your education, even your work? Tired of missing threats that continue to hold back your...

Cost: $100

Where:
Caffe Nero
368 Congress Street
Boston, MA  02210
View map »


Telephone: 321.30.PSYCH(7792)
Contact Name: Soni
Website »

More information

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