Have an evidence-based, Merry Christmas!

In 2014 I was blessed to win first prize for outstanding research at the International Medical Education Conference in Malaysia. After all the congratulations and fanfare, I collected my cash prize and got into a taxi to head to the airport. The taxi driver offered to take me for $50 US – he apologized that it was so much but he knew he wouldn’t find a passenger returning to the sleepy beach town where I was staying.

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On our 90 minute drive this simple man, his congenial personality and stories of his children warmed my heart. When I left him at the airport I gave him $400 US – I had just received much more than this as a prize and it was not hard to give away. This was the most memorable and satisfying moment of my trip to Malaysia in 2014. Even though I made 5 oral presentations, won the prize, and spent a unique weekend in a monastery. Yet, giving away this money was the most memorable moment of my trip – I still remember the look on his face.

The ancient book of Acts quotes Jesus Christ saying “it is better to give than receive.” But did you know that science actually confirms this? A large body of research already shows that level of income has a limited impact on level of happiness. Dan Kahneman popularized this message with his TED talk on the same. In fact, having a lot of money has been associated with a reduced interest in donating to charity or spending time with others. However, remarkably, these are the very things that research has proven to bring happiness!

A study about Christmas festivities actually revealed that activities involving family and religion had the biggest impact on happiness during Christmas. Whereas, gifts were associated with less happiness and actually increased peoples’ stress levels!

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A team of researchers from University of Michigan found that helping others (giving money) has been associated with reduced mortality by buffering stress. Another study by Doug Oman and Thoresen McMahon showed that those elderly who were volunteering at two or more organizations (giving time) had a 63% lower mortality rate than those who did not volunteer at all.

This Holiday Season, be sure to focus on giving. As a healthcare provider what can we do? Medical and Dental societies have many opportunities to volunteer and donate toward worthy causes that match our mission and values. We should, selfishly, look for opportunities to give because they bring the most happiness.

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