Giving With Love

christmas

The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others”. Mahatma Gandhi

A BBC poll suggests that almost half of adults in England experience loneliness – people of all ages and in all circumstances.

In last year’s Christmas blog I spoke about the impact of loneliness and encouraged people who were experiencing loneliness to reach out. This year I want to focus on the act of giving. Whether or not someone reaches out to us, we all need to be there to provide each other with the emotional and practical support that at times in our lives we all need.

Of course, no giving is truly altruistic. The giver benefits just as much as the recipient. Giving helps us to feel:

  • More socially connected – it fosters a sense of trust and strengthens our bonds with others. The more we give the more likely we are to receive support from others when we need it.
  • Happier – the act of giving activates the regions in our brains connected with pleasure, social connection and trust.
  • Healthier – the more we help others the lower our blood pressure, the healthier we feel and the lower our risk of dying within the next 5 years!
  • Less stressed – giving to others and creating a sense of social connectedness acts as a buffer against feelings of negative stress.
  • Better about ourselves – giving boosts our self-esteem and mood and gives us a sense of purpose.

Plus, giving has been shown to be contagious, by giving to others we create a ripple effect throughout our community – encouraging others to give as well.

The tough bit though, the really tough bit, is being able to give in a way that is open hearted, generous, and without strings. Giving so that the recipient feels that they are helping us, and giving in a way that it makes it easy for people to receive. That is the challenge – giving with love.

Is Love Important?

waltervalentineAt this time of year our thoughts begin to turn towards romance and love. For those of us in a relationship we may be thinking about whether or not we buy into the commercialisation of romance, or we may be flinging ourselves into the sentiment of the day whole heartedly.

For those of us not in an intimate relationship we may be feeling that the day is irrelevant, or that February the 14th is a national conspiracy highlighting the fact that the world evolves around ‘smug’ couples.

But does love make us happy?

I’m not sure if it makes us happy, but close relationships certainly give us a solid foundation from which to live our lives. Not just intimate relationships – love and companionship in its many forms: friends, family, even pets – connections, community and bonds that make our world a happier place.

Human beings are innately social. We have evolved to see loneliness as a threat. Social isolation raises levels of cortisol and other stress hormones, raises blood pressure and weakens our immune system.

Conversely, the presence of supportive others have been shown to alter our perceptions of everyday challenges so that they are perceived as being less threatening, as well as acting as a buffer protecting us from the negative effects of stressful events.

But of course it has to be the right relationship. Recent research has shown that the fear of being single often results in people settling for less in relationships. The fear of being single can lead people to prioritise being in a relationship above that of the quality of the relationship.

So as we approach Valentine’s Day what steps can you be taking to boost your emotional relationships?

Be honest with yourself
Many of us are perfectly happy being single. It is a good place for us to be at this time in our lives. But for others it can be a cause of unhappiness. Be honest with yourself. If you would like to increase your chances of meeting someone begin to broaden your social circles, and explore ways of increasing your chances of meeting someone romantically.

Whether you are entering a new relationship or reflecting on a long-term relationship ask yourself whether the driving force is your fear of being single. Are you making decisions based on that fear rather than on the quality of the relationship?

Celebrate the connections you have
Whether you are in a romantic relationship, or whether you have supportive friends or loving family. Celebrate the connections that you have got. Just because it is Valentine’s Day doesn’t mean you have to make a grand gesture. But just a hug, a text, a phone call, or even a card will let the people close to you know that you are thinking of them.

Happy Valentine’s Day.