Service: The Gift that Gives Back

The holiday season is full of opportunities to give of ourselves and serve those around us. We see dozens of fundraisers for different organizations, participate in drives of every sort, offer to carol at assisted living facilities, serve meals in soup kitchens, buy secret Santa gifts for needy children, and much more. Obviously, the intent is to help either those we love or even complete strangers. But the incredible part of service is that it gives back. Jill Suttie and Jason Marsh published an article on the benefits of giving in UC Berkeley’s “Greater Good Magazine.” They shared various ways that scientists and researchers have found evidence of benefits to those who serve and give of themselves.

1. Giving increases our happiness

In a study done by Jorge Moll and colleagues at the National Institutes of Health in 2006 found that “when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect.” Many scientists also believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high.”

2. Giving is good for our health

In another study done by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee in 2006 found that “people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn’t, suggesting a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves.” Other research has been done that shows that service reduces stress and promotes better health.

3. Giving puts our own challenges into perspective

In his book “A Million Miles in a Thousand Years,” Donald Miller tells the story of his friend Jason and how their family was changed by giving. Jason and his wife were concerned about their 13-year old daughter who had recently started dating a boy they didn’t approve of. She never came home on time and was always away with her boyfriend who smelled like smoke and showed little respect for her. They had found drugs hidden in her closet and could see that she was pulling away from their family. They had tried everything they could think of to reach her, but anything they did only pushed her further away. Jason began researching about an organization that builds orphanages in Mexico and decided that he would contact them and see what it would take to raise the money to help build one. When he presented the idea to his family, they were initially upset because it would mean financial sacrifices on their part. However, after a while, they started to get excited about it and soon the family was working together to raise funds for an orphanage and planning to go and help build it together. When recounting the story, Jason shared that the experience truly changed his family. Their relationships improved, and they felt more peace in their home. He also admitted that the most amazing part was seeing the change in his daughter. She broke up with her boyfriend, turned her life around, and got lost in service. He explained, “no girl who plays the role of a hero dates a guy who uses her. She knows who she is. She just forgot for a little while.”

Now most of us probably won’t be able to go out and build orphanages in third world countries, but the principle is still the same. When we focus on serving and giving to others, we can get outside of ourselves and our own problems enough to put them into perspective. We gain confidence and find purpose in lifting and helping those around us. So, this holiday season, let’s focus on taking advantage of the small opportunities to give of ourselves and what we have. Hopefully, it can start a life-long habit that will improve the quality of our own life as well as those around us. For, in the words of Francis of Assisi, “It is in giving that we receive.”

This research and information was provided by Samantha Marshall


Miller, D. (2009). A million miles in a thousand years. Nashville, Tennessee: Thomas Nelson.

Suttie, J. & Marsh, J. (2010). Five ways giving is good for you. Greater Good Magazine. Retrieved from good_for_you

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