During the last week we have concentrated on how stress affects our health and life. We cannot separate mind from body and soul, nor soul from mind and body. Everything we do, think or be affects our lives in some way – and also affects the lives of others. During this special festive season our thoughts turn to the tradition of giving and today we explore how this affects us in more ways than we may be aware of. Post, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University has written a book titled “Why Good Things Happen To Good People: The Exciting New Research That Proves The Link Between Doing Good and Living A Longer, Healthier Happier Life”. Post cites a raft of studies (some of it funded by his Institute for Research on Unlimited Love) showing that qualities like gratitude, celebration, forgiveness and compassion are not only good for the recipients of your generosity-they’re good for you too, leading to better health and longer life. If we ever needed any other reason to enter into the spirit of celebration and giving, this has to be it!
The very terms “Merry Christmas and Happy New Year” suggest the giving of an emotional gift – merry and happy. Christmas is a special time of the year for the many people who believe it is a celebration of the birth of Jesus. Others celebrate it as the holiday season. Whatever your belief, most people join in the practice of giving gifts and are thinking “what is the perfect gift I can give to the people who are special to me”? What can I put under the tree that will delight the people I love? The problem is, that in an affluent society most people have the resources to buy most things they want and need which leaves little for people to give. As children, we were absolutely delighted to receive presents twice a year – birthday and Christmas, and the anticipation (oh the anticipation!) was almost more exciting than the gift itself. I remember one year when my parents were struggling to find enough money to live, we wondered whether there would be any Christmas at all, and now it brings such a warm feeling remembering my absolute delight in discovering my mother had sewed my favourite doll a full bridal trousseau. As a child I was also struggling to think how I could make this an exciting time for my younger brother. We lived on a small farm and of course in Australia it was the height of summer. My father used to provide all the meat for the family from our farm and I found a hoof of an animal in the area where my father dressed the meat and made some impressions with the hoof in the soil near our house so that my brother would think Santa and his reindeers were close by! I will never forget his excitement thinking of Christmas, (or mine) on discovering the thrill of making another happy. It is a trap to think that we should spend our lives making others happy, but by cultivating a generous giving life, we also become the beneficiary.
Gifts are a natural manifestation of the love and joy we want to share with others but sometimes (and especially at Christmas) gift-giving can become an expensive material exchange, in which obligation plays a bigger role than the pleasure we’re supposed to be sharing. Today we not only focus on the health benefits of giving, but on gifts that cost nothing and bring more joy – both for the giver and receiver.
Rather than being drawn into shopping-more-buying-more-getting-more and the stress of it, we want to recapture the true joy of giving. What are people really looking for in a gift? They are looking for a happiness buzz – something to take them out of the tedium of every day living. A physical gift will do that momentarily, but the effect soon wears off, however a gift for the soul will last forever. Research has strongly indicated that when we invest in quality life gifts – spending time on our relationships, investing in health, helping others etc we experience the greatest happiness and satisfaction – as does the receiver. There is always a temptation in thinking someone will enjoy a physical present more than our love and time, but research suggests our love and time make longer lasting presents. Some of the most precious gifts I have recorded in my heart are of the times I received breakfast in bed, a cup of tea when I was exhausted, some little flowers from my garden when I thought there were none, a foot massage, some help with technology, a hand made card, a painting etc etc. What I remember most about these times is the love I received. It is true (research proves it) we are happiest when we are connected to family, friends and community. It is also true that people may forget what you said and what you did but they will never forget how you made them feel. We need to think “life” not stuff!
Anything we do to elevate our spirits will also have a beneficial effect on our health.
A recent study by Cornell University found that volunteering increases a person’s energy, sense of mastery over life, and self-esteem. Other studies have demonstrated that such positive feelings can actually strengthen and enhance the immune system. Positive emotions increase the body’s number of T-cells, cells in the immune system that help the body resist disease and recover quickly from illness. Positive emotions also release endorphins into the bloodstream. Endorphins are the body’s natural tranquilizers and painkillers; they stimulate dilation of the blood vessels, which leads to a relaxed heart. Harvard researchers also conducted a study that showed how giving is such a powerful immune booster that it can be experienced just by watching someone else in the act of giving! In this well-known experiment, students looking at a film of Mother Teresa as she tended the sick in Calcutta—even those who purported to dislike Mother Teresa—got an increase in immune function. – how cool is that!!
Economically these are tough times so it provides the perfect opportunity to re-evaluate how we will celebrate this Christmas and what kind of gifts we will give. To understand what the heart values most, consider the need in the world. Generosity has the amazing power to unshackle us from materialism and fill our hearts with contentment. Perhaps more will consider the possibility of giving gifts of the heart this Christmas that can deepen our relationships, improve our health, increase our joy and will last a lifetime.
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- Dr Richard McMinn - Chiropractor Brighton
- Dr Helen Martin - Chiropractor Brighton
- Dr Glenn Fredericksen - Chiropractor Brighton