Why Helping Others Makes Us Happy
Helping our fellow man has long been seen as an altruistic behavioral model. But it turns out that more selfish motives—pleasing friends, doing what you want—are more successful causes of effective volunteering. Whatever the motive, volunteering improves the health, happiness, and in some cases, the longevity of volunteers. Children who volunteer are more likely to grow up to be adults who volunteer. Even unwilling children who are forced to volunteer fare better than kids who don’t volunteer. And in a virtuous circle, communities with lots of volunteers are more stable and better places to live, which in turn further boosts volunteerism.
[See the Top 10 U.S. Cities for Well-Being.]
“On one hand, it’s striking that volunteering even occurs,” says Mark Snyder, a psychologist and head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota. “It seems to run against the strong dynamics of self-interest. There is simply nothing in society that says that someone is mandated to help anyone else.” Yet 1 in 3 adults do meaningful volunteer work on a sustained basis, he notes, and the United States has one of the world’s highest rates of volunteerism.
“People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness,” Snyder says. “All of these things go up as their feelings of social connectedness goes up, which in reality, it does. It also improves their health and even their longevity.”
Among teenagers, even at-risk children who volunteer reap big benefits, according to research findings studied by Jane Allyn Piliavin, a retired University of Wisconsin sociologist. She cites a positive effect on grades, self-concept, and attitudes toward education. Volunteering also led to reduced drug use and huge declines in dropout rates and teen pregnancies.
Other research links youth volunteering to a higher quality of life as an adult, Piliavin adds. “Participating in high school tends to boost participating in adulthood, which is related to enhanced well-being.” One clear message from this for parents: Get your children involved in community volunteer programs.
Most people say they value volunteering because it’s “the right thing to do,” among other altruistic reasons. But the strongest drivers of successful volunteers are actually more self-focused, notes Allen Omoto, a professor of psychology at Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, Calif. There are five main reasons people volunteer, he says.
Three are “self-focused”:
1. Understanding: the desire to learn new things and acquire knowledge.
2. Esteem enhancement: feeling better about yourself and finding greater stability in life.
3. Personal development: acquiring new skills, testing your capabilities, and stretching yourself.
Two are “other-focused”:
4. Sense of community: making the world, or your piece of it, better.
5. Humanitarian values: serving and helping others, often with a strong religious component.
“The ones that get the higher rates of endorsement are the ‘other focused’ ones,” Omoto says. “But it’s the ‘self-focused’ ones that predict length of service.” Snyder also says people who don’t volunteer often have an idealized view of people who do. “They put them up on a pedestal,” he says. This might actually deter people from volunteering because they feel they don’t measure up.
The benefits of volunteering are linked to a person’s degree of commitment. “It’s clear that more is better, at least up a point,” Piliavin says. “Some studies find an inflection point and others don’t. One study finds the benefits increase up to the point where a person has volunteered 100 hours during a year.” Consistency is also important. “The more consistently you do it, the better your psychology benefits,” she says.
Snyder says the amount of volunteering people do tends to rise steadily during their adult years and begins declining at about the age of 60. Interestingly, the benefits of volunteering rise for older people, and experts say they might benefit from more volunteer work, not less.
–by Ocean Robbins, Oct 30, 2013
Our world is pretty messed up. With all the violence, pollution and crazy things people do, it would be easy to turn into a grouchy old man without being either elderly or male. There’s certainly no shortage of justification for disappointment and cynicism. But consider this: Negative attitudes are bad for you. And gratitude, it turns out, makes you happier and healthier. If you invest in a way of seeing the world that is mean and frustrated, you’re going to get a world that is, well, more mean and frustrating. But if you can find any authentic reason to give thanks, anything that is going right with the world or your life, and put your attention there, then statistics say you’re going to be better off. Does this mean to live in a state of constant denial and put your head in the sand? Of course not. Gratitude works when you’re grateful for something real. Feeling euphoric and spending money like you just won the lottery when you didn’t is probably going to make you real poor, real quick. But what are you actually grateful for? It’s a question that could change your life. Recent studies have concluded that the expression of gratitude can have profound and positive effects on our health, our moods and even the survival of our marriages. As Drs. Blaire and Rita Justice reported for the University of Texas Health Science Center, “a growing body of research shows that gratitude is truly amazing in its physical and psychosocial benefits.” In one study on gratitude, conducted by Robert A. Emmons, Ph.D., at the University of California at Davis and his colleague Mike McCullough at the University of Miami, randomly assigned participants were given one of three tasks. Each week, participants kept a short journal. One group briefly described five things they were grateful for that had occurred in the past week, another five recorded daily hassles from the previous week that displeased them, and the neutral group was asked to list five events or circumstances that affected them, but they were not told whether to focus on the positive or on the negative. Ten weeks later, participants in the gratitude group felt better about their lives as a whole and were a full 25 percent happier than the hassled group. They reported fewer health complaints, and exercised an average of 1.5 hours more. In a later study by Emmons, people were asked to write every day about things for which they were grateful. Not surprisingly, this daily practice led to greater increases in gratitude than did the weekly journaling in the first study. But the results showed another benefit: Participants in the gratitude group also reported offering others more emotional support or help with a personal problem, indicating that the gratitude exercise increased their goodwill towards others, or more tehnically, their “pro-social” motivation. Another study on gratitude was conducted with adults having congenital and adult-onset neuromuscular disorders (NMDs), with the majority having post-polio syndrome (PPS). Compared to those who were not jotting down their blessings nightly, participants in the gratitude group reported more hours of sleep each night, and feeling more refreshed upon awakening. The gratitude group also reported more satisfaction with their lives as a whole, felt more optimism about the upcoming week, and felt considerably more connected with others than did participants in the control group. Perhaps most tellingly, the positive changes were markedly noticeable to others. According to the researchers, “Spouses of the participants in the gratitude (group) reported that the participants appeared to have higher subjective well-being than did the spouses of the participants in the control (group).” There’s an old saying that if you’ve forgotten the language of gratitude, you’ll never be on speaking terms with happiness. It turns out this isn’t just a fluffy idea. Several studies have shown depression to be inversely correlated to gratitude. It seems that the more grateful a person is, the less depressed they are. Philip Watkins, a clinical psychologist at Eastern Washington University, found that clinically depressed individuals showed significantly lower gratitude (nearly 50 percent less) than non-depressed controls. Dr. John Gottman at the University of Washington has been researching marriages for two decades. The conclusion of all that research, he states, is that unless a couple is able to maintain a high ratio of positive to negative encounters (5:1 or greater), it is likely the marriage will end. With 90 percent accuracy, Gottman says he can predict, often after only three minutes of observation, which marriages are likely to flourish and which are likely to flounder. The formula is that for every negative expression (a complaint, frown, put-down, expression of anger) there needs to be about five positive ones (smiles, compliments, laughter, expressions of appreciation and gratitude). Apparently, positive vibes aren’t just for hippies. If you want in on the fun, here are some simple things you can do to build positive momentum toward a more happy and fulfilling life: 1) Keep a daily journal of three things you are thankful for. This works well first thing in the morning, or just before you go to bed. 2) Make it a practice to tell a spouse, partner or friend something you appreciate about them every day. 3) Look in the mirror when you are brushing your teeth, and think about something you have done well recently or something you like about yourself. Sure this world gives us plenty of reasons to despair. But when we get off the fast track to morbidity, and cultivate instead an attitude of gratitude, things don’t just look better — they actually get better. Thankfulness feels good, it’s good for you and it’s a blessing for the people around you, too. It’s such a win-win-win that I’d say we have cause for gratitude…
New research shows that helping others may be the key to happiness.
By Lisa Farino
Few of us are immune to the frustrations and challenges of daily life—family problems, conflicts at work, illness, stress over money. When we get depressed or anxious, experts may recommend medication and/or therapy. But a newly emerging school of thought suggests that a simple, age-old principle may be part of both the prevention and the cure: Help others to help yourself.
There’s no shortage of research showing that people who give time, money, or support to others are more likely to be happy and satisfied with their lives—and less likely to be depressed. Could helping others be the key to weathering the inevitable storms of life?
Carolyn Schwartz, a research professor at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, didn’t start out looking at the value of helping others. Instead, she wanted to see if receiving monthly peer-support phone calls from fellow multiple sclerosis sufferers would benefit others with the disease. But over time, a surprising trend emerged. While those receiving support appeared to gain some mild benefit, the real beneficiaries were those lending a supportive ear. In fact, those who offered support experienced dramatic improvements in their quality of life—several times more so than those they were helping.
The benefits of giving aren’t limited to those who are ill. When Schwartz later looked at more than 2,000 mostly healthy Presbyterian church-goers across the nation, she found that those who helped others were significantly happier and less depressed than those who didn’t.
This phenomenon is nothing new. Paul Wink and Michele Dillon found a similar pattern when they looked at data collected every decade on a group of San Francisco Bay Area residents beginning in the 1930s. Those who volunteered and engaged in other forms of giving when they were adolescents were much less likely to become depressed, even as they got older.
New research suggests there may be a biochemical explanation for the positive emotions associated with doing good. In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, participants’ brains were monitored by MRI scans while they made decisions about donating part of their research payment to charitable organizations. When participants chose to donate money, the brain’s mesolimbic system was activated, the same part of the brain that’s activated in response to monetary rewards, sex, and other positive stimuli. Choosing to donate also activated the brain’s subgenual area, the part of the brain that produces feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin, that promote social bonding.
Why doing good works
These results may seem surprising, especially since our culture tends to associate happiness with getting something. Why should we humans be programmed to respond so positively to giving?
“As Darwin noted, group selection played a strong rule in human evolution. If something like helping benefits the group, it will be associated with pleasure and happiness,” explains Stephen Post, Ph.D., a research professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University who co-authored the book Why Good Things Happen to Good Peoplewith Jill Neimark.
While evolution may have primed us to feel good from giving, it may not be the only reason helping others makes us feel better. Since depression, anxiety, and stress involve a high degree of focus on the self, focusing on the needs of others literally helps shift our thinking.
“When you’re experiencing compassion, benevolence, and kindness, they push aside the negative emotions,” says Post. “One of the best ways to overcome stress is to do something to help someone else.”
Even better, feeling good and doing good can combine to create a positive feedback loop, where doing good helps us to feel good and feeling good also makes us more likely to do good.
“Numerous studies have found that happy people are more helpful,” says Dr. David Myers, a social psychologist at Hope College and author of The Pursuit of Happiness. “Those who’ve just found money in a phone booth are more likely to help a passerby with dropped papers. Those who feel successful are more likely to volunteer as a tutor.”
When giving isn’t good
While doing good is generally good for the doer, Post stresses that there are two important caveats. First, the caregiver can’t be overwhelmed. There’s ample research showing negative mental and physical consequences for givers who are overburdened and stressed by their duties—or who do so much they don’t have time to have fun and take care of themselves.
In addition, while helping others can be a great antidote to the mild depression, stress, and anxiety that is a normal part of the ups and downs daily life, Post emphasizes that it’s not a cure for severe depression. “If you are clinically depressed, you need professional help,” Post says.
But for people who aren’t severely depressed and who give within their limits, helping others can bring joy and happiness—and better health and longevity too.
Some people wonder if these positive benefits make helping others an ultimately selfish act. “If the warm glow and ‘helper’s high’ that people experience when they help others is selfish, then we need more of this kind of selfishness,” says Post.
How to help others—and yourself
Incorporating kindness into your daily life isn’t difficult. Here are five easy things you can do to help others—and yourself:
- Volunteer. Research shows that people who volunteer just two hours per week (about 100 hours per year) have better physical health and are less depressed. To find volunteer opportunities in your area, visit Volunteer Match or contact your local church or school.
- Informally offer help to family, friends, and neighbors. Lend a needed tool, bring dinner to someone who’s sick, feed pets for neighbors on vacation, or offer a ride to someone who lacks a car.
- Donate. It doesn’t have to be a lot of money. Toss change into coffee cans at cash registers or support local organizations by buying a raffle ticket. Look for opportunities to give within your means. You’ll help make the world a better place and make yourself feel better too.
- Listen. Sometimes all others need is someone to lend a sympathetic ear to make them feel heard, cared for and loved.
- Make other people (and yourself) smile. The easiest way to make other people happy is to act happy yourself, even if it’s not how you feel. “Sometimes we can act ourselves into a way of thinking,” says Myers. “So like the old song says, ‘Put on a happy face.’ Talk as if you have self-esteem and are outgoing and optimistic. Going through the motions can awaken the emotions.”
Are you Interested in Helping? Here’s Opportunities in SM!
Click Here for Volunteer Opportunities in SM
See the letter below as a formula for writing your own letter to Rick Penny. Use google docs and choose a Letter Template. Then, use the ideas you see in this sample letter to write your own letter to Rick Penny about how he should use the Zorro Circle to achieve his goals.
Paragraphs in the Essay:
Paragraph 1: Type Rick Penny a letter. Explain how he should use the Zorro Circle to accomplish one big goal of his.
Paragraph 2: Explain how the Zorro Circle has helped you reach one of your goals.
Paragraph 3: Finally, give Rick Penny encouragement and remind him what you suggested he should choose to focus on for his Zorro Circle, and then tell him one last positive word of encouragement.
Check out this article on different Philanthropy ideas below. At the same time, click the link for the Google Doc, and log ideas you think would work for here at Delta…or change those ideas you read to fit for Delta:)