How Christmas Can Improve Your Brain

Christmas, Hannukah set are a time when we’re given the opportunity to renew or at least test some simple spiritual principles.  Interestingly, it turns out that these simple principles are key to the neurological and health, wealth

1. Here’s What Giving Gives You

Participants in a study at the University of British Columbia1 were each given $10, with the option of donating part of their capital to another participant.  Before and after the study, researchers measured the level of salivary cortisol.  Cortisol is a stress hormone and a major culprit in the link between stress and disease.  Over time, it causes wear and tear in the body that can shorten your life.  Cortisol has also been linked to cortical shrinkage; especially in the mid and prefrontal cortex (the brain’s CEO).  The result is a dampened intelligence.

How do we sustain wealth and health together, instead of wealth at the expense of health?  By giving part of our wealth away, the study suggests. The more money participants gave the happier they were and the lower the level of cortisol in their system.  The more money they kept the more shame they experienced and the more cortisol levels rose.   Other studies have shown that the brain quickly recovers executive functions once stress hormone levels drop and effectively reducing stress is critical to a healthy heart and functioning immune system.

It appears giving your money or volunteering your time pays dividends in terms of a longer, healthier and happier life.

1. E. Dunn, On the costs of self-interested economic behavior: how does stinginess get under the skin? Journal of Health Psychology. 2010 May; 15(4): 627-33.