Altruism, caring for the welfare of others, is considered a valuable act of kindness in almost every culture. The idea that altruism benefits the giver as well as the receiver usually stems from the notion that one day when you need it, there’ll be a helping hand present for you too. Social scientists, psychologists, and medical researchers are seeking out other ways that giving back can reward the giver.
According to Berkeley Wellness, researchers have consistently linked social support to health and longevity. For example, a 2010 analysis of 148 studies linked stronger social connections to a fifty percent reduction in mortality rates. One possible reason is that stronger social ties can act as a stress deterrent. Feeling connected to others can help anyone deal with illness and other injurious events.
A recent study focused on the benefits of giving suggested that, compared to receiving social support, it provided more of a positive outcome. The study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, involved 846 people over age 65. Participants were interviewed about stressful events they had endured in the past year and how much they had helped/given to friends and family members. Simple tasks like doing errands or shopping, completing housework, or taking care of children were included on the list.
Researchers found that experiencing stressful events could significantly predict increased mortality over the following five years among those who rarely helped others. The more helpful people studied had no decreased rate of mortality. The data was adjusted according to age, gender, initial health, personality traits, and help received from others.
Helping others can give anyone a meaningful life role, a self-esteem boost, a more positive attitude, and purpose in life, which can naturally result in better mental and physical health. To include all perspectives, sometimes being a caregiver can have adverse effects on the body and mind, especially if a family member is sick, yet this study suggests there is always something positive to take from even a seemingly negative situation.
If you have time after work, after helping out your friends and family, volunteering in your community can enhance your health and happiness. Research has shown that older people, especially if they are retired, benefit the most from giving their time to a good cause, however, altruism benefits people of all ages. Serving food to the homeless, planting a tree, or tutoring a child are all fun and worthwhile engagements we can use to benefit our communities and our health.
Make sure to consult your primary care physician or chiropractor for all health related advice.
Image Credit: Hands planting a tree by Chesapeake Bay Program. Used under a Creative Commons License.
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