Doing good things for other people is an act that, in itself, is inherently selfless. We help other people because we want to make their lives better, not because we’re hoping to gain anything from it. However, evidence shows that volunteering and philanthropy in general can benefit the giver as much as it can the benefactor. Not only does helping others make the giver feel better, it can actually have positive effects on their lives and their health. Here are just a few of the ways that, by helping others, you could also be helping yourself.
- It can help decrease symptoms of depression.
- There are a lot of steps you can take to ensure good physical health; regular exercise, a healthy diet, and good sleep all contribute to a healthy body. However, mental health problems cannot be combatted as easily. The leading cause of disability in the United States is depression, affecting more than 15 million Americans on any given year. A study looked into multiple studies on the link between mental health and volunteering, and showed a strong connection between the relationships we build and how they benefit our mental health.
- It can be good for your heart health.
- Heart disease is the number one killer of women in the United States and a major threat to men’s health as well; one of the largest contributors to poor heart health is high blood pressure. Studies have shown that, through volunteering, the connections we form and the relationships we build can help to promote healthy aging. A study of 1,164 adults between 51 and 91 was published by the Journal of Psychology and Aging and studied how volunteering helps reduce blood pressure over a 4 year period. The results showed that the participants who volunteered for at least 200 hours a year appeared to have a reduction of 40% in their blood pressure.
- It makes us “feel good.”
- Our body is essentially controlled by hormones and chemicals released by our brains and endocrine system. These chemicals control our moods and our reactions. When we’re helping others, three such chemicals are produced by our brains: dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin. Dopamine is a chemical neurotransmitter that works with the pleasure center of the brain to reward us when we do things that make us happy. Oxytocin helps to lower your stress levels, and serotonin is the chemical that provides us with the feeling of wellbeing. When we volunteer to help others and can see the direct result of our efforts, studies have shown this can cause an increased release of these chemicals in your brain, causing you to feel good when you do good.