Beyond “Feel-Good”: The Health Benefits of Helping Others
“For it is in giving that we receive.” — Saint Francis of Assisi
It’s hard to describe, and even harder to explain, that wonderful feeling you get when you do someone a favor - when it is in your power to positively impact someone else’s day. It makes sense that being the recipient of a favor leaves you feeling good - in large part due to the value that favor added to your life - but why on earth does doing a favor for a friend, or sometimes even a stranger, feel so good?
Well, it turns out:
It is in fact good for you to be good to others. Sounds cheesy, I know, but on a social, economic, and even a physiological level, it actually makes sense.
Altruism has been found have some very clear health advantages. One study showed that people who did five random acts of kindness a week for six weeks were happier than those who didn’t, and another found that “individuals who more frequently engage in altruistic acts tend to rate themselves higher on measures of well-being” (Krueger, Hicks, & McGue, 2014). Furthermore, social connectedness, both perceived and actual, is associated with lower blood pressure, better immune responses, and lower levels of stress hormones, all of which contribute to the prevention of chronic disease (Wilder Research, 2012).
Social support also has a positive impact on an individual’s resilience to stress. Those with stronger support networks have been found to recover more quickly and show lower rates of depression and other mental illness (Ozbay et al. 2007). Interestingly, another study found that the very act of helping others reduces mortality (Poulin 2013).
Simply speaking, when you help another person, not only does that individual receive the value of your favor, there is also a sort of unspoken expectation that the other person will help you with a similar need in the future. Or, if not that specific person, then someone else who has also been on the receiving end of a favor in the past and finds themselves in a position to pay it forward. Some call this “goodwill” others call it “karma” - whatever you call it, the reality remains: helping each other out has proven health and economic benefits, and human societies have long been engaging in transactions such as these so that everyone involved will end up better off than when they started - the sum of the parts is greater than the whole.
By Catherine Hrdy, CEO & Founder