Health & Diet

Giving Is Good for You

Donating your time or money to a worthy cause makes a difference in the world; it also makes a difference in you

By Wendy Haaf

Photo: iStock/AwaylGl.

Attending church with her family when she was growing up in the 1970s, Beth Traynor noticed that her parents put what was for them a substantial sum into the collection plate every Sunday.

“My experience was that you gave back,” says Traynor, a London, ON, lawyer and partner in Siskinds Law Firm. “I still feel a compulsion to contribute to charity, particularly since I’ve been in a position where I have the resources.”

Ellen Rosen’s reasons for donating both funds and time to London Health Sciences Foundation’s Women’s Care program are similar.

“My husband and I always wanted to give back to our community, whether it’s the local community or the general community,” says Rosen, who was a long-time employee of the hospital before leaving her position there as VP of Women’s and Children’s Clinical Services. “We feel very fortunate, so we think it’s only right that we share a little.”

A lot of Canadians subscribe to that philosophy: our country’s charitable and non-profit sector is the second-largest in the world (after the Netherlands—our southern neighbour is No. 5). But while the desire to give back is an excellent reason to get out your chequebook or credit card, it’s certainly not the only one. Here are just a few more.

It Makes You Feel Good

Sure, indulging in a spa day or treating yourself to something you’ve had your eye on may lift your spirits, but a growing body of research suggests that, in fact, spending money on others—including donating to charity—is more likely to do so.

In one experiment, researchers gave students a small sum ($5 or $20); half were instructed to spend it on themselves, while the other half were told to spend it on a “pro-social” gift. When investigators checked in with participants at the end of the day, “people who had given money to others were significantly happier,” says Lara Aknin, one of the study’s co-authors and an assistant professor of social psychology at Simon Fraser University in Burnaby, BC. “The amount of money didn’t matter,” she says. (On the other hand, research probing how long the feel-good effect lasts is scant—like exercise, generosity may do the most good when practiced regularly.)

In the decade since, “that finding has been seen quite robustly in other countries and cultures,” Aknin says. “Generally speaking, generosity predicts higher well-being for donors.”

That fact likely won’t be a surprise to people who donate their time, talents, and funds to worthy causes. “I get a very deep satisfaction from it,” Harvey Sachs, a retired accountant, says of his volunteer work at Baycrest Health Sciences in Toronto. “I don’t do it for the recognition; I do it because I’m able to.”

While Beth Traynor’s motivation for contributing to—and raising funds for—the hospital is to help others, “in some ways it’s a selfish choice,” she says, “because it makes me feel so good.”

“It’s such a small thing, but I do feel good knowing I’m helping a little bit,” says Guelph, ON, author Teresa Pitman, a senior writer for Family & Children’s Services of the Waterloo Region and a long-time supporter of the Toronto chapter of La Leche League Canada, which provides mother-to-mother breastfeeding support, and Covenant House, a Toronto shelter and support-centre for homeless youth. “It’s my way of trying to give support to kids who have had such a rough start.”

It’s Good for Your Health…