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The Independent Online

Giving to charity not only assists others, it also helps you to feel better about yourself, research has found. A Canadian study of how people spent their company bonuses, published in 'Science' magazine, reported that those who gave some or all of it to charity or to others had greater feelings of well-being than those who spent it on themselves.

And there is a clear gender divide on who donates most to charity. The UK Giving 2007 report, based on data collected by the National Council for Voluntary Organisations and the Charities Aid Foundation, found that 62 per cent of married women give to good causes, compared with just 44 per cent of single men. Men were more generous when they lived with a partner, with 52 per cent of them giving. Medical research is the most favoured cause, receiving 17 per cent of all money given.

Some 27 per cent of Britons regularly volunteer with a formal organisation, charity or local group. According to data published by the Institute for Volunteering Research, the causes that benefit most are: education – schools, colleges, universities (31 per cent); religion (24 per cent); and sports, exercise or "health and disability" (both 22 per cent). The institute adds: "The largest proportions of activities were: 'raising, handling money' (65 per cent) and 'organising, helping run an event' (50 per cent)." The most active regular volunteers are 16- to 24-year-olds (43 per cent), followed by 55- to 64-year-olds (42 per cent), and the over-65s (41 per cent). Women are more likely to volunteer than men, and the regions with the highest percentage of volunteers are the West Midlands and South-west, with the lowest being Yorkshire and the North-east.

Why is laughter the best medicine? A hearty laugh will engage every muscle, nerve and organ in the upper body. Laughing releases the body's natural opiates and its pain reliever, beta endorphins. The thymus gland, responsible for your immune system, is stimulated by the facial muscles when laughing. In the chest, laughter releases antibodies in the respiratory passage that protect against viruses while also increasing T-cells. Your heart rate and blood pressure increase while you laugh, but fall below normal levels when you stop. So laughing ultimately lowers heart rate and blood pressure. It causes the diaphragm to convulse and improves circulation. According to Professor William Fry of Stanford University, laughing 100 times a day is the cardiovascular equivalent of 10 minutes' rowing. It is no surprise that depressed people are three times more likely to get ill.