Put the ‘Happy’ in Happy Holidays — How Giving to Others Can Boost Your Mood

This time of year is often referred to as the season of giving. We buy presents for friends and family. We bake cookies for our postal carrier and garbage collector. We sign up to be a bell ringer for The Salvation Army. We volunteer to help children shop at Mini O’Beirne Crisis Nursery’s Children’s Holiday Store.

We give and then give some more.

That’s good because it turns out that giving is good for a person’s mental health.

“Giving allows people to experience an increased connection with their community,” said Linda Nowack, a therapist with Memorial Behavioral Health – Counseling Associates in Springfield. “By giving their time to others, people combat boredom, loneliness and isolation because they are building relationships with individuals and organizations in their community.”

Volunteering is an opportunity to develop social relationships as well as new skills and knowledge. Donating time can lead to powerful results.

“It can create fulfillment in one’s life. People can connect with causes that are meaningful to them as well as discover what the community they live in needs most,” Nowack said. “People discover a sense of purpose when they have the opportunity to make a difference. It can improve a person’s self-esteem because they are able to identify their strengths and use their talents in a positive manner.”

Nowack has seen firsthand how giving has positively affected people with depression or anxiety.

“Their mood improves and they begin to view others in a more positive manner. Giving, even if it’s just a simple gift for the child who lives next door, increases their optimism and instills faith in the world around them,” she said.

While the holidays can be filled with social gatherings with family and friends, they also can be a time of sadness for people who have experienced the death of a loved one, a job loss or divorce. Nowack said giving can be a positive distraction.

“Giving allows individuals to see beyond their own personal difficulties and provides an opportunity to gain a new perspective on their own problems,” she said.