Tuesday, August 16, 2011

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Brain Hack – Tzedakah!

charityPsychology Today, via Lifehacker, reports giving charity relieves stress! (Say what??)

It might seem a little counterintuitive, but if you're stressed out about finances, Psychology Today recommends you donate a few dollars to help relieve your own anxiety.

The idea comes from a study published in 2008 where participants were given an envelope of money and asked to spend it by 5 p.m. the same day. Each participant was assigned to either a personal spending group, where they had to use the money to purchase something for themselves, or a gifting group, where they had to give the money away. It turns out that by the end of the day, those who spent money on charity rated happier than those who spent the money on a personal expense.

Why does giving money to a worthy cause or a friend in need lift your spirits? First, it may foster a sense of social connectedness. One theory posits that the more modest your means, the more you and your close family and friends may need to rely on one another to get by; hence, the greater focus on generosity.

Second, donating money gives you a sense of making a difference. That’s a welcome antidote to the feeling of helplessness that can come from watching wild stock market gyrations and wildly frustrating budget stalemates.

Third, sharing even a little money may reduce your body’s stress response. Elizabeth Dunn, PhD, the same University of British Columbia psychologist behind the $5 spending study, also led another recent study that looked at how monetary stinginess affects cortisol, a stress hormone. In the study, college students played an economic game, for which they were paid $10. Students had the option of donating some of this payment to another player. Those who kept more of the money for themselves reported feeling more shame. And greater shame, in turn, predicted higher levels of postgame cortisol.

So a case can be made that giving away a few bucks is good not only for your soul, but also for your mind and body. No matter the amount, reminding yourself that you still have the wherewithal to share could be just what you need right now.

So not only is giving tzedakah a mitzvah and helping your fellow a direct and positive way to make this world a better place, but it actually has a direct and positive health and emotional effect on your body and brain.

Now that’s a mitzvah with a kick!

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