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The ripple effect of giving: charity and mental wellness

The ripple effect of giving: charity and mental wellness

Donating to charitable causes has shown to positively affect mental well-being, including boosting mood, enhancing self-esteem, fostering social connections, and decreasing stress levels.
Giving as charity
Representational image | Shutterstock

“As a child, I was always in awe of my grandmother’s generosity. From providing food to the hungry to donating clothes, her passion to helping those in need was evident in everything she did,” recalls Madiha Sadaf, 28, financial assistant based in Bengaluru. Her grandmother instilled in her the belief that one can contribute positively, even in adversity. Philanthropy and donation encourage and imbue such emotions in a lot of people. It also offers various advantages beyond that. “Participating in charitable giving can boost our sense of purpose and meaning in life,” says Dr Natanya Wachtel, New York-based clinician in mental health, and co-founder of evrmore.io, an AI-powered platform for mental wellness of genZ.

Charity with a twist

To demonstrate her charitable spirit, Saniya Kulsum,21, a student from Kerala, takes pleasure in feeding the evening pigeons on her terrace. She says, “I keep portions of bread and curd rice for the stray dog who greets me with a cheerful wag. I also feed meat leftovers to two coy brown cats.” Doing a kind act is her version of charity which she will follow till the end of her time, she adds. It not only helps the receiver but also enhances our mental well-being, like Winston Churchill once said, “We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” 

Unique approaches to charitable giving

The goal of giving should be acts of kindness and empathy. “Offering time and skills as a volunteer to a local organisation that share your values is also a great way of charity,” says Dr Wachtel.

L Allison Earl, licensed professional counsellor and behavioural health consultant in Oklahoma and Matthias Dettmann, psychologist hailing from Germany, provide different ways with which one can give back to the society.

  • Set aside a portion of your income each month to donate to a cause you care about.
  • Seek out opportunities to help those in need in your daily life. It can be buying a coffee for the person behind you in line or holding the door open for someone.
  • Be intentional about performing small acts of kindness, like leaving a positive note for someone or picking up litter in a public space.
  • Choose to support locally owned businesses rather than larger corporations.
  • Take time each day to practise gratitude and think about how you can use that mindset to benefit others.
  • Share your extra resources with those who may need them, whether it be lending a book to a friend or donating clothes to a local shelter.
  • Help elderly neighbours with their chores.
  • Offer free mentoring to financially unstable children.
  • Show kindness to people working at the places you visit.

Earl says our time can be more valuable than the money we give, highlighting the importance of non-financial forms of giving. “Giving need not always be grand or elaborate. Even small acts of kindness and generosity can have a significant effect on the world,” says Dr Wachtel.

Unpacking the perks of charitable giving

Increases self-esteem: By contributing to something greater, one can raise their self-esteem and sense of self-worth.

Triggers happiness and peace: Earl says engaging in acts of generosity and charity release endorphins and oxytocin that promote inner peace and happiness. A 2009 study published in the National Library of Medicine by researcher Jorge A Barraza revealed that those engaged   in acts of generosity, experienced higher oxytocin levels.

Increases sense of satisfaction: A 2010 study published in the Journal of Social Psychology by Kathryn E Buchanan, professor at the University of Kent, found that people who committed acts of kindness had greater satisfaction in life.

Social well-being: “Charitable giving and volunteering are important ways to foster a sense of social connectedness and community involvement,” says Dettmann. Connecting with people from different walks of life can form meaningful relationships and make one feel less isolated.

Positive effects of giving on stress and anxiety: Several studies indicate that giving and helping others can reduce stress and anxiety levels. In addition to the neurochemical benefits, helping others can help counteract feelings of stress and anxiety by providing perspective and a positive outlook.

The heart chakra and charity

Asmi Shah, yoga teacher, pranic healer, and sound therapist from Brooklyn, offers an intriguing perspective. She says donating to charity can activate our heart chakra. It is associated with unconditional love and represents expansiveness and generosity. “Unlocking the heart chakra can have significant advantages, including promoting love and empathy towards oneself and others, easing forgiveness, and fostering harmony with others,” she adds. Zainab Anjum

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