‘Tis Better to Give
From the New York Times, here is a recent piece on the health benefits of giving – benefits, that is, for the giver.
The article is partly tied to holiday giving. But the writer gives a nod, not just to material gifts for the names on our shopping list, but also to gifts of our time and care. She cites numerous studies that show improved health outcomes for people involved in helping or volunteering. One study describes an endorphin rush or “helper’s high” from altruistic behavior, and finds that “[t]he strongest effect was seen when the act of altruism involved direct contact with other people.” So writing a check is not as revivifying as giving our time and attention to a person in need.
I suppose this is Theology for Dummies (“Christmas is the season for giving”) as well as yet another case of the secular world just now figuring out what the church has known from its beginning. But I will say, the more I read and learn about medical science’s efforts to measure the health benefits of spiritual practices, the more I am struck by the “attitude adjustment” factor. Practices such as intentional altruism and even prayer are, among other things, a cognitive intervention. As a woman interviewed for the Times piece says, "It's about stepping outside of your own story long enough to make a connection with someone else." Focusing on God or on another person is an effective way to break out of self-pity or a fixation on our own struggles and fears. It glorifies God and makes us feel better.
John James, M.A.
Clergy Health Initiative