Giving is better for you and your health according to a study at the University of Buffalo.
Over 800 participants completed a survey of stressful events they had experienced the previous year such as burglary, serious illness, job loss or loss of a family member.
They then recorded the amount of time they spent helping friends and neighbours in various tasks such as child-care over the same period.
The researchers found that, after taking age and other variables into account, people who had helped others during the previous year were less likely to die within 5 years than those who had not helped others.
Published in American Journal of Public Health, online 17 January 2013
I’ve posted before about ways to be happy and positive psychologists have reported similar findings and the popularised the idea of Random Acts of Kindness (RAKs).
There are a number of interesting findings about RAKs. For example In “The Healing Power of Doing Good”, Allan Luks reports that there’s a phenomenon called the helper’s high, which is described as a feeling of warmth and increased energy, as well as a feeling of euphoria, that people feel when they’re being kind to others.
In addition, a 2005 study from Hebrew University in Israel found a link between kindness and the release of dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain. At the most basic level, functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) evidence shows that giving money to charity leads to similar brain activity in regions implicated in the experience of pleasure and reward. (Harbaugh, Mayr, and Burghart, 2007)
Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine, has the following to say about helping others: “All the great spiritual traditions and the field of positive psychology are emphatic on this point — that the best way to get rid of bitterness, anger, rage, jealousy [and so on] is to do unto others in a positive way.” He adds that there are studies that show that when people act with generosity and compassion, there’s a positive effect on their health and well-being.
Post, who co-authored the book “Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving” with Jill Neimark, adds that evolution may have primed us to feel good from giving, because groups that had a large number of people who were altruistic toward others were more likely to survive than groups that did not. Also, depression, anxiety, and stress involve a high degree of focus on the self; when we focus on the needs of others our thinking literally shifts.