Redefine the way you give for the health of the whole family.
About this time each year, we are reminded that it's better to give than to receive. This old adage is usually doled out to youth medicinally, in an admonishing tone designed to shame them into reluctant appeasement for receiving a paperback (again) when what they really wanted was a PlayStation.
Sometimes it's all about the delivery. While a spoonful of sugar does help get those medicinal morsels down, even better is a healthy side order of science. It turns out Grandma was right: It is, in fact, healthier to give than to receive. And there's proof.
A colleague of mine studied 115 adults living with HIV-AIDS and found that social interest (acting in the interests of others) and self- transcendence (the ability to find meaning beyond self) were significantly correlated with improved well-being. In another notable study, researchers tracked adults with cardiovascular disease and found that those who helped others experienced markedly lower rates of subsequent cardiac events and depression.
It's this simple: By helping others, we help ourselves—physically, mentally and emotionally. This is likely not earth-shattering news to most of you. We are a generous bunch, with almost half of all Canadians over the age of 15 volunteering some of their time.
We're all wired for empathy. We're born with the hardware we need to feel compassion and generosity. But like that clamshell in your basement, the circuitry gets rusty and overwritten if it's not used—so we should nourish it in the youth around us. We see the circuitry start firing in infancy. The first step toward self- transcendence is self-sufficiency, and that is witnessed by the instinctive urge of babies to pull to sitting, then to standing, then to reach for that elevator button (which is why kids go ape if you press the button before them). They want to be like us. They have a preternatural need to belong. If we play our cards right, they grow to realize that a crucial part of belonging is contributing to the whole.
So here's what I recommend: Plan family giving together and discuss what everyone would be willing to give up so the family, as a whole, can give more (my clan serves meals at a local outreach centre, but just as generous is an o er to shovel an elderly neighbour's driveway). Acknowledge family members' steps toward socially interested living. Do so and you'll see more giving—in family, friends and the kids around you. Even better? You'll have helped them live a healthier life.
Liza Finlay is a Registered psychotherapist and author of Lost & Found: The Spiritual Journey of Women at Midlife.