Better health and wellbeing are in store for kids and adults who give.
Ask a parent to list the characteristics they hope their children will grow to embody, and they will often include traits like compassion, empathy, and generosity. To encourage these character traits, many parents and educators steer children toward charity work and volunteerism.
Social involvement has obvious benefits for the whole community. We are all better off when medical researchers receive donations to fund their work and when non-profit organizations have volunteers to help run their programs. What may be less obvious are the many benefits to the philanthropist.
Donating money or lending a helping hand are touted to be selfless acts, but they pay huge returns to the individual. Young people, especially, stand to reap benefits to their character as well as their health and well-being.
Discover helper’s high
We’ve heard of a ‘runner’s high’ but what about a ‘helper’s high’? The concept was first introduced by Allan Luks, in his book The Healing Power of Doing Good. The term ‘helper’s high’ refers to the feelings of exhilaration and overall well-being one experiences by assisting others.
Luks conducted a study involving 3,000 volunteers, and discovered that helping others results in a drop in stress levels, and a release of endorphins. Endorphins give us a ‘rush’. They are neurotransmitters that dull feelings of pain, cause a sense of euphoria, and enhance the immune system.
As a result, Luks found that individuals who volunteer regularly are 10 times more likely to experience good health than those who don’t.
Luks’ findings seem to be corroborated by a study conducted by Dr. Jordan Grafman and his colleagues at the National Institute of Neurological Disorders and Stroke. Using Magnetic Resonance Imaging to monitor ‘reward’ centres of the brain, Grafman discovered activity in the centres after a financial win, and even more activity when the windfall was donated to a cause.
Grafman’s team attributed the warm, fuzzy feelings associated with monetary donation to the production of dopamine and oxytocin. These chemicals promote feelings of personal connectedness, resulting in a sense of well-being and security.
Other benefits, too
Good health and well-being are fantastic reasons to encourage young people toward a life of philanthropy, but children and adolescents stand to reap additional rewards, including new social skills, leadership abilities, and improved decision making. Other benefits include:
> better behaviour. Research found that youths who provide voluntary service to others exhibit a decrease in risk behaviours. The better behaviour correlated with improved school performance and a greater likelihood of academic completion.
> improved employment prospects. Adolescent volunteers also gain skills and experience that improve their employment prospects. They are able to explore areas of interest in a meaningful way. Those interests may develop into career.
> increased empathy. Volunteering helps children develop realistic perceptions of the people and the world around them. They build respect and empathy for other groups and an understanding of their own ability to affect change in the world.
There are no shortage of options when encouraging children to become socially involved. Start with initiatives that affect them directly, like fundraisers for school or extra-curricular sports. Children are also excited by the many fun activities designed to raise money and awareness for charitable causes, such as the Terry Fox Run. These sorts of projects act as incentives for children to increase their level of personal responsibility as they work toward a goal and collect pledge money to meet the event deadline.
Many families regularly support their local food bank. Consider allowing your children to shop for the donation. Ask them to purchase the ingredients for a healthy meal, within a predetermined budget. This exercise can help children make the distinction between needs and wants and understand the limitations of their financial resources.
And involve children when making your family’s philanthropic decisions. Start by having a discussion about potential causes and organizations. Learn which charities resonate with them and then decide, as a family, where you will direct your support.
Small steps made early can lead to an ethic of involvement that will last a long and healthy lifetime.