12/09/2014 05:28 pm ET Updated Feb 08, 2015

Generosity During the Holidays

Winston Churchill famously said, "We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give."

With all due respect to karma, a lifetime is an awfully long time to wait to have our best intentions rewarded. Luckily, we don't have to wait: The benefits of charity and compassion are powerful and immediate. We might have seen it on a bus, when someone offers his or her seat to an elderly person: The generous person feels noble, the elderly person beams with gratitude, and even those who are watching, feel like cheering inside just from having witnessed a simple act of kindness. As it turns out, the effects of those experiences aren't just psychological.

Those who study the science of do-gooding have discovered that performing (or even just imagining performing) a good deed has major Physiological benefits -- for the giver, not just the recipient.

Naturally, we don't behave in benevolent ways to benefit from our actions...the side effects are awesome. There has been a lot of proven research which suggests that, performing a kind act releases oxytocin -- the same brain chemical that surges when you hold your baby or snuggle a dog -- which incidentally also temporarily lowers blood pressure.

Nearly a hundred years ago, aviator Amelia Earhart observed, "A single act of kindness throws out roots in all directions, and the roots spring up and make new trees." Her inspiring words were borne out by the results of a study published in the New England Journal of Medicine that showed how a single altruistic kidney donation set off a domino effect, resulting in 10 successive transplants.

Perhaps because tough economic times bring out our neighborly compassion -- or because it's an idea that never went away -- suddenly kindness feels like it's all around us and more important than ever. All we have to do to change our own lives is to pass it on.

Here are some easy, affordable ways to give -- and get -- joy during the holidays.

1. Leave a bouquet at the hospital -- the nurses will know who needs it the most.

2. If you are in a long line, invite the person behind you to go first.

3. Shower the pediatric wing of a hospital with coloring books and boxes of new crayons.

4. Drop off combs, toothbrushes, and toothpaste at a shelter or a soup kitchen.

5. Share the wealth: Ask the grocery clerk to apply your unused coupons to another customer's items.

6. Arrange to pay anonymously for a soldier's breakfast when you see him or her dining alone.

7. Lay your neighbors' newspaper at their front door along with a plate of blueberry muffins.

8. Volunteer to read to kids at an after-school program.

9. Take kindness on the road: Pay the toll for the car behind you.

10. Make sure you have a little gift for the mail delivery person for the holidays.