Helping others also helps yourself: these fascinating studies explain why (updated May 2021)

A new meta-analysis in the journal Psychological Bulletin shows that helping others also improves your own health and happiness. It adds to the growing scientific literature showing that helping others also helps yourself, in more ways than you might expect.

More on that below. But first, the most recent meta-analysis ( PDF here) looked at more than 200 previous studies, involving a total of almost 200,000 participants. It found a modest link between “prosocial behavior” and well-being.

According to the study’s lead author Bryant P.H. Hui, prosocial behaviors such as altruism, cooperation, trust, and compassion form the “necessary ingredients of a harmonious and well-functioning society.”

“It is part of the shared culture of humankind,” he said, “and our analysis shows that it also contributes to mental and physical health.”

Past research had already discovered that people who engage in these kind of behaviors are happier than those who do not. They also have better mental and physical health. But until now, evidence was lacking about the link between prosocial behavior and the positive results it brings to the “helper.”

The benefit of helping others depends on the situation

Not all acts of kindness bestow an equal amount of benefit to the helper. Relevant factors include the type of kindness on offer, as well as the age and gender of the giver. Other demographic factors also play a role.

For example, the study found that random acts of kindness, such as helping an older neighbor carry groceries, had a stronger effect on well-being than did more formal kinds of giving, such as volunteering for a charity at a pre-scheduled time. Hu suggests this may be because the spontaneous and casual nature of informal kindness might make it easier to form social bonds, which strongly impact one’s level of happiness. Likewise, the inherent variation of informal giving makes it less likely to turn stale or monotonous.

Age also matters. Younger givers reported higher levels of overall well-being and psychological health. Older givers, on the other hand, benefited more in terms of improved physical health. In addition, women generally showed a stronger relationship between prosociality and well-being than men did.

Happiness is helping others: striving for more meaning in life

Furthermore, the researchers found a stronger link between kindness and “eudaimonic” well-being (which has to do with finding meaning in life) than between kindness and “hedonic” well-being (which has to do with happiness and positive feelings).

In sum, this study “suggests a small and significant association between prosocial behavior and well-being,” the authors write. It also provides researchers with important insights into what types of prosociality are affected, and how people’s age and gender play a role.

Study: “Rewards of Kindness? A Meta-Analysis of the Link Between Prosociality and Well-Being” (full-text PDF)
Authors: Bryant P. H. Hui, Jacky C. K. Ng, Erica Berzaghi, Lauren A. Cunningham-Amos, and Aleksandr Kogan
Published in: Psychological Bulletin
Publication date: September 3, 2020
DOI: http://dx.doi.org/10.1037/bul0000298
Photo: by Anna Earl via Unsplash

Five great ideas on how to give back

Like that old saying goes, what you give comes back to you. The best way to give your time or money is to give it in ways that are helpful to others. This way you are helping your fellow humans live better and longer. Below are five great ideas about how you can give back to the community.

  1. Help with your hands, literally: Build Abroad is a non-profit that focuses specifically on construction volunteering
  2. Start a fundraising campaign: GoFundMe explains the basics right here: Define your goal, choose your platform, tell your story, spread the word, and say thanks.
  3. Organize a charity event: Take a look at Eventbrite’s 10-step plan.
  4. Volunteer your time: Walden University lists 10 great ways of doing so here.
  5. Become a coach or mentor: The Open University offers a free course on how to get started.

Four helpful links explaining why helping others helps yourself

  1. Mental Floss offers a helpful rundown of the scientific benefits of helping others; for example, they find that it boosts longevity and happiness, while at the same time reducing chronic pain and lowering blood pressure. It also sets a good example for the kids.
  2. Along those same lines, University College London suggests that helping others creates a sense of belonging and purpose, while also boosting self-esteem and one’s sense of optimism. It also creates stronger friendships.
  3. Time magazine recently even called helping others the secret to happiness, with tips on how to avoid being guilt-tripped into giving back.
  4. Finally, Lifehack proposes some more practical benefits of helping out, for example creating a cycle of favors that will eventually pay off, as well as the free publicity aspects of volunteering; it also looks good on your CV or resume, they conclude.

What does the Bible say about helping others? Twelve quotes

There are many passages in the Bible that talk about helping others. But what do they actually say? The overall message is that it’s our responsibility to help each other and help those in need.

Here are twelve of the most famous Biblical passages about helping others:

  1. Galatians 6:2: “Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ.”
  2. Hebrews 13:16: “And do not forget to do good and to share with others, for with such sacrifices God is pleased.”
  3. Proverbs 3:27: “Do not withhold good from those to whom it is due, when it is in your power to act.”
  4. John 15:12: “My command is this: love each other as I have loved you.”
  5. Deuteronomy 15:11: “For there will never cease to be poor in the land. Therefore I command you, ‘You shall open wide your hand to your brother, to the needy and to the poor, in your land.’”
  6. Luke 3:10–11: “‘What should we do then?’ the crowd asked. John answered, ‘Anyone who has two shirts should share with the one who has none, and anyone who has food should do the same.’”
  7. Proverbs 19:17: “Whoever is kind to the poor lends to the Lord, and he will reward them for what they have done.”
  8. Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your father in heaven.”
  9. Matthew 5:42: “Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”
  10. Philippians 2:4: “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others.”
  11. Proverbs 11:25: “A generous person will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed.”
  12. Romans 12:13: “Share with the Lord’s people who are in need. Practice hospitality.”

Originally published at https://www.psychnewsdaily.com on May 19, 2021.

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