This Is What Happens to Your Brain When You Give Back

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If you're reading this the day after Cyber Monday, and a few days after Thanksgiving and Black Friday, you might have just gone through the most epic shopping spree of the year (and maybe even your life?). Each year it seems like the deals get crazier and the hype hits more extreme levels. Listen, we're all about finding the best sales and deals out there (part of it is the thrill of the discount chase), but it's really easy to forget that this time of year is also a time to step back, be grateful, and think about what you can do for the people around you.

That's where Giving Tuesday comes in as a moment of mindfulness. The movement was created in 2012 as a day to encourage people around the U.S. and the world to do good. It can be through money of course, but you can also give your time by volunteering, donating items, and even just sharing an act of kindness.

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While doing good shouldn't be relegated to one specific day on the calendar, the day can act as a reminder during this busy holiday season. And there's an added benefit to helping your community and those around you: Science shows that acts of generosity can be beneficial to your health, too. A longer life shouldn't be the only reason to give back, but no doubt it's a nice added bonus. In the spirit of Giving Tuesday, we wanted to take a look at how giving back can affect your health, so we've listed out some benefits below. But keep in mind that authenticity and sincerity are key when it comes to these benefits. And read on for more ideas on how to give back.

1. It Can Lower Your Blood Pressure

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The Cleveland Clinic says a study published in the International Journal of Psychophysiology found that people who gave social support to others had lower blood pressure than those who didn't. So volunteering your time to an organization or even just helping your neighbor can have an effect.

2. It Can Lead to a Longer Life

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Being generous with your time as you get older can also have an impact on how long you live. A 1999 study from the University of California, Berkeley, found that elderly people who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die over a five-year period than people who didn't volunteer—this was after researchers accounted for age, exercise habits, general health, and negative health habits.

Another 2013 study found that there was a link between helping others and a reduced association between stress and mortality.

3. It Can Boost Your Mood

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Giving back can make you feel happy, according to a 2017 study. Researchers told 50 people they would be receiving a sum of money that they would have to spend, with half of the group committing to spend it on others, and the other half spending it on themselves. The participants got to choose how much they would give to others. Throughout the experiment, researchers were measuring activity in the participants' brains. Afterward, researchers found that people who were generous with others were happier than those who weren't. And better yet, their levels of happiness didn't increase as generosity levels increased—so even giving the smallest amount still made the giver happy.

How to Help

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If you're looking to genuinely give back, there are a couple of ways to do it. The Giving Tuesday organization outlined some ideas, which we've shared below. Remember, this is just a starting point, and you can always check your local community center or board to find out other ways you can help.

Money: There are so many organizations and foundations you can give monetary donations to that will match your funds this Giving Tuesday. Look up your favorite cause, or find a new one with sites like Charity Navigator, which will help you find trustworthy organizations. Giving Tuesday's site also has a list of participating nonprofits.

Time: The saying goes that time is precious, and it's even more effective and helpful when it comes to helping organizations. This might be the perfect time to find a new volunteering program or opportunity. VolunteerMatch.org or Idealist.org are good places to start.

Donations: Get a group of people, whether it's your friends or co-workers, to round up some donation items. It can be books, clothes, toiletries, food—see what organizations around you are in need of. Or you can donate solo.

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Voice: Look into letter writing or phone banking to advocate for causes or campaigns that are important to you.

Skills: This goes along with volunteering your time—some organizations need people with specific skill sets, like marketing or technology, but don't have the budget.

Kindness: Use Giving Tuesday and every day afterward to show someone even the tiniest act of kindness. Help someone carry their groceries, or hold the door open for a person who's pushing a stroller. The smallest gesture counts.

Next up: 26 Ridiculously Easy Ways to Live a More Sustainable Lifestyle