Winston Churchill once said, “We don’t make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” Most philosophies and religions, support the belief of giving back to society. Giving back to the community not only helps others, but it’s apparently one of the most therapeutic things that we can do for ourselves. Even the research suggests that giving back to people and helping others can help reduce stress and depression. Such activities also promote healthy social connections and a sense of purpose.
In this article, we will be sharing what are the benefits of giving back to the community for your body and mind. We will be covering the synopsis of 3 major pieces of research in this field that will help you further understand how that little act of kindness can help you improve your health.
Contents of the blog
- Here is what you get when you give back
- Synopsis of various studies that suggest giving back is good for your body and mind
Here is what you get when you give back
Act of Giving Brings Up “Helper’s High”
What does eating your favourite ice cream, falling in love and getting involved in a charitable act have in common? Endorphins. Often called “feel-good” chemicals, Endorphins act as a pain reliever and happiness booster. The well-known “runner’s high” that is felt after vigorous and lengthy exercises is due to the increase in endorphin levels. This state of euphoria when experienced by individuals after engaging in the charitable activity is termed as “helper’s high”. There are many psychological benefits of giving back to the community. When we help others, our body releases serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin hormones which counteract the effect of the stress hormone, cortisol and boost mood.
But Why Does it Feel Good to Help Others?
Project Helping outlined their recent blog, “Humans are social beings, meaning that we have evolved to create and maintain social bonds. Kindness, compassion, and altruism are ways that we have learned to do this.” We’re hard-wired for giving back and this is not simply a vague gesture of human nature. Many scientific disciplines- genetics, evolution, human development, social science, neurology and positive psychology, support the gesture of giving back.
Our empathy for others and desire to give back to society exists from the very existence of human beings. This helped us in two ways – firstly, it made us sensitive to the needs of our young ones, recognizing when they are hungry or in pain, which helps us raise them more successfully. Secondly, the human species is dependent on cooperation. When our community is capable and healthy, we can do better as individuals also.
Synopsis of various studies that suggest giving back is good for your body and mind.
Helping others might extend your lifespan:
Various researches have shown that regardless of whether you are donating money, volunteering for organizations or offering things you own – these acts of kindness helps you manage stress better. Not only this, it can even prevent various cardiovascular conditions.
In a study conducted by Cornell University, researches followed 427 married women and their children. They assumed that housewives who have more children would be more stressed and are likely to suffer through major illness than women with few children. To their shock, family size, class, education and even work status had no impact on their lifespan. So what did?
According to researchers, 52% who did not volunteer or did any charity work experienced a major illness, while of the women who were constantly involved in charitable tasks, only 36% experienced a major illness. Another study found that the early death rate reduced by 44% among those who volunteered a lot.
What is the science behind this decreased stress and enhanced longevity?
When we are engaged in helping others and other such good deeds, we reduce our own stress. When we are stressed, hormones like cortisol are released, which increases the heart rate and breathing rates. If this stress response remains turned on for longer periods of time, the immune and cardiovascular systems are adversely affected. This ultimately leads to premature ageing. However, volunteering has shown a bigger impact on health than exercising four times a week. So, the next you’re experiencing a low day, you can pick up a volunteer shift instead of picking up your running shoes.
Avoiding selfish behaviours help you fight depression anxiety and depression:
A study examined two ways of increasing self-worth in adults who were suffering from depression and anxiety:
- The self-image goals, which were focused on getting others to notice the positive qualities in you and avoid showing the weaknesses.
- The compassionate goals, which were about avoiding selfish behaviours, helping others and making a positive difference in someone’s life.
Analyses showed that the people who focused mainly on self-image goals experienced conflicts in a relationship, which further increased the symptoms of anxiety and depression. On the other hand, compassionate goals were associated with less conflict in relationships and lower level of symptoms.
Trying to improve our self-image by seeking others’ approval leaves us feeling more anxious and depressed. This also damages our relationship. In contrast to this, by turning our attention towards helping others, we make everyone feel better including ourselves and ultimately builds our impact wealth.
Here are the five techniques adopted for compassion in the above study:
- Creating an impact on someone’s life:
Examples include providing educational aid to someone needy, taking a friend out for lunch, graciously letting someone merge in front of traffic.
- Being supportive of others:
Supporting your colleagues during difficult times, getting some time to sit and talk with elderly neighbours are some of the ways to be supportive of others.
- Having compassion of others’ mistakes:
Making an impact or giving back to people does not always mean that you need to do charity or volunteering. Being generous towards others and compassionate towards the mistakes of our friends or colleagues, not only make the person feel better, but this also bolsters our relationship with them.
- Avoid being self-centred:
We remain so preoccupied with our well-being that we often forget taking care of others. Higher levels of depression and anxiety tend to make us inward and focus on our own selves, which clearly explains why compassion for others can relieve these mental illnesses.
- Make constructive comments to others:
Our words are powerful – good words can motivate someone, while negative words can do harm to others self-esteem. If you don’t have enough financial resources to donate, you can simply create an impact on others with powerful and motivating words.
Volunteering Aids in Maintaining Strength and Mobility
Even if you are not burning your calories daily on the treadmill, you can still gain the desired strength and mobility by getting involved in the act of giving back to people and volunteering in general. Volunteering reduces the risk of cardiovascular diseases by keeping you more active. Whether you’re handing out meals to senior citizens or planning to host an event for the local football team, you will be moving your muscles.
In a study conducted on 100 high school students in 2013, researchers found that volunteering has a positive effect on physical health. The participants were divided into two groups, the first group of 50 students was asked to perform volunteering activities, while the second one was not given any such task. Before the beginning of the activities, both the volunteers and non-volunteers had equal body mass index and cholesterol levels. After the tasks were completed, a group of volunteers, who were asked to help out with after-school activities, ended up with a lower level of LDL i.e. bad cholesterol and a lower average BMI.
The researchers suggested that volunteering activities not only improved mood and raised self-esteem but also improved physical health since these factors are linked to each other. Even the research on middle-aged and older adults have similar findings. Volunteering activities resulted in lower blood sugar and better cholesterol levels, which in turn lowered the risk of heart diseases and stroke.
Working towards creating an impact in the society increases your sense of purpose in life, which leads to improvements in both physical and psychological health.
There is another Carnegie Mellon study, in which it was found that 200 hours of volunteering in a year leads to lower blood pressure. In the study, researchers tried to identify which type of volunteering activities provided the greatest benefits. It was found that mentally stimulating activities like reading or tutoring are helpful in maintaining thinking skills and memory, while activities that promote physical activity would help with cardiovascular health.
Apart from the health benefits of giving back to the community, doing good to others without any selfish reasons also gives your life a new purpose. So, when you’re heading towards a way to give back to society make sure that you pick a volunteering or charitable activity that is your passion. In fact, it’s imperative that the organization or cause you to choose resonates with your choices on a personal level. If you like cleaning, you can indulge in activities that involve cleaning the parks, and roads of your society, if you like pets, try providing shelter and food to stray dogs and so on. Remember, giving back to society doesn’t necessarily mean creating an impact on others, however, it should be rooted in your altruism.
The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that the essence of life is “To serve others and do good”. All the researches mentioned above stated only one thing that serving others not just makes you create an impact on society, but also brings a lot of benefits to your physical and psychological health, which in turn improves the quality of life. Don’t you think that charitable acts or volunteering activities bring you peace and happiness, apart from improving your health? Isn’t the resulting good health, peace, happiness and relationships that you build through your little act of kindness is part of your wealth – the impact wealth? Comment your views.