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The Spirit of Giving: Ten Ways to Give

  • Story Highlights
  • Volunteering can improve your health, self-esteem -- and even your sex life
  • Regular U.S. church attenders are likely to give twice as much to charity
  • Joining a local organization can strengthen your ties with your community
  • Researchers have found links between self-obsession and depression
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By Brigid Delaney
For CNN
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(CNN) -- It doesn't have to be Christmas for you to start thinking of giving -- how you can do it, where you can do it and those most likely to benefit from your gifts.

Here are some of our favorite ways to share the love.

1) Do volunteer work

In Britain, recent figures show 26 million people engaged in voluntary work and a further 11 million described themselves as waiting to be asked to volunteer. So you certainly won't be alone if you decide to volunteer.

Between 2001 and 2003, the Home Office Citizenship survey recorded a rise of more than 1.5 million volunteers.

The great thing about volunteering is that while you help others, there are also positive trade-offs for yourself.

A Community Service Volunteers (CSV) survey in 2004 found one in five people aged 18 to 24 and 8 percent of over-65s said volunteering had improved their sex lives, especially those who had offered their professional skills or got involved in conservation or heritage projects.

The same poll found that nearly half of volunteers enjoyed improved health and fitness, a quarter had lost weight -- especially those working with children or doing conservation projects -- and two-thirds felt less stressed.

2) Help a friend with a loathsome task

We all know how friends can disperse when it's time to move house. Suddenly, the mate whose truck you helped load four years in a row has an urgent, unplanned holiday that's come up the week you're moving.

You can tell they're a true friend if they spend their Saturdays helping you with unpleasant domestic tasks. So show a friend you care: help them move, clean the leaves from their gutter after a storm, or paint the spare bedroom.

There may well be a beer for you at the end of it -- and there'll certainly be some good karma.

3) Give away some money -- even when it hurts

An extensive study in the U.S. in 2000 found that 89 percent of households gave to charity that year, with the average house giving $1620 -- or 3.1 percent of their income.

Households with regular religious attendance were on average likely to give twice as much as those who did not attend church or attended irregularly.

Even though you may feel poor at times, there will always be someone worse off than you who could use your help.

It's now possible to give by direct debit or through a payroll scheme at work. Investigate the company and the cause thoroughly before you make regular contributions so you can be sure that your gift is going to the people that need it the most.

4) Help a co-worker out on a project where there's no kudos for you

Show them how to use a tricky computer program, fetch them tea or coffee, counsel them when they're stressed and take them for a walk outside (even if it's just to the car park) when they've had an argument with the boss. Be a supportive friend to your colleagues and they in turn will do the same for you. No one likes a bitchy workplace.

5) Join a community organization such as a choir, Neighborhood Watch

Not only will you get to know your neighbors but also you'll feel more part of your community and know you're doing something to make it more cohesive.

6) Perform small acts of random kindness towards strangers

Give up your seat on public transport or help someone carry their shopping up a big flight of stairs. If you're tall, help a short shopper reach that high-up jar. If every city dweller was a bit nicer to the people they encountered each day, no one would want to escape to the country.

7) Rescue an animal from a shelter

If you have the means, space and inclination to look after an animal, why not head to your nearest shelter and find one that is looking a little downcast. The animal may have been mistreated or neglected by its past owner, and with a little love and attention you can make the world of difference.

8) Take your next holiday locally to cut down on greenhouse gas emissions and give something back to the planet

And take your own bags to the supermarket, avoid buying things that are overly packaged, recycle glass jars and tin cans at home and look at switching to a more renewable form of energy.

9) Stop thinking about yourself

Researchers frequently find a link between being self-obsessed and being unhappy.

Those who lose themselves in activities such as music, crafts, writing or giving to others are less likely to dwell on their own lives and their shortcomings.

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10) Buy a gift for a friend who doesn't expect it

It doesn't have to be a birthday or Christmas for you to splash out on a mate. Why not just buy them a present just for being a great friend? The best gifts are often the most unexpected ones -- and you can be happy in the knowledge that you've probably made their day. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

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