The Science Behind Why Volunteering To Help Others Makes You Happier
You don’t have to be an angel of selflessness to volunteer.
It’s great if you help others partly for selfish reasons – you are always doing good.
And a major reason for helping others – selfish as it may sound – is that it is proven to make you happier.
When we do good for others, it makes us feel good right away, basically.
“ Research shows we’re happier when we do it for other people, ” Laurie Santos, professor of psychology at Yale University, who leads the hugely popular Science Of Wellbeing course, told Metro. .co.uk.
“People who volunteer more tend to be happier than those who don’t.
“It is a universal phenomenon. In fact, prosocial behavior appears in most cultures to improve people’s happiness ”.
Most of us have experienced these warm, fuzzy feelings after doing a good deed.
Social psychologist Naomi Eisenberger explains that there is a neurological cause for this “warm glow.”
“When we help another person – whether it’s holding a partner’s hand as they go through a painful situation or donating money to a charity, we see an activation linked to. the reward “in the brain,” Naomi notes. “ So the regions of our brain, like the ventral striatum, that process basic rewards – like eating tasty food or earning money – also activate when we do something good for someone. else.
“These acts of kindness usually lead to positive feelings or what is sometimes referred to as the ‘warm glow’ of giving.”
And unlike other “ highs, ” like eating a whole chocolate cake or engaging in risky behaviors, the enjoyable nature of volunteering doesn’t have any negative side effects or slowdowns.
Instead, you feel great long after the initial selfless action.
“Research to date shows that the actions we do for other people can have relatively old happiness effects,” notes Laurie. “It’s the kind of thing that can improve your well-being, even if you think about it.
Naomi adds, “We’re not that quick to adjust or ‘get used to’ the positive feelings associated with giving to others.
So when we look at how subjects feel when they spend the same amount of money (e.g. $ 5) on themselves for five consecutive days compared to when they spend that money on someone d Other for days, the happiness people felt in response to these acts diminished faster when people spent money on themselves than when they spent money on others.
“In other words, the happiness associated with giving to others didn’t seem to ‘grow old’ the way you saw it with giving to yourself.
There is the intrinsic glow of having done something beneficial for others, but the benefits don’t end there. There are also more practical and obvious advantages.
Volunteering can also help fight loneliness and give us a purpose we might not get from our paid work.
Member of the counseling directory Shelley Treacher explains, “Similar to a paid job, volunteer work can give a sense of routine and structure to our day or week, while also giving us a sense of accomplishment and purpose.
“ However, because we don’t have any of the financial considerations that often keep us in unsatisfying paid employment, we have less stress and more freedom to pursue other interests through the volunteer work we choose. ”
So basically we get the good sides of the job – the sense of purpose and staying busy – but without all the pressures that come with a paid job.
Shelley adds, “With increasing levels of disconnection and loneliness in an increasingly online world, volunteer work can benefit everyone involved, and as social creatures we need social interaction.
“Helping others can often help distract us from our own problems and instill gratitude for what we have.
Getting involved in volunteer work can also help us learn new skills and improve our self-esteem, and gives us regular challenges that keep us motivated.
All of this is magic for our mental states, boosting happiness and addressing symptoms of mental health issues.
But while the benefits of volunteering are huge, it’s important to note that that doesn’t mean you should be doing your regular job and volunteering every minute of the day.
Yes, volunteering can make us happier, but if it’s at the expense of all of the other key parts of mental and physical health, it can do the opposite. You also need to take time for yourself.
And on a practical note, unless you’re in a very privileged position financially, you also need to keep earning money – otherwise the post-volunteer glow could be offset by the stress of cash flow worries.
Choosing the right volunteer work for you is also crucial.
“Balance is the key here,” says Shelley. “ When choosing what volunteer work to do, make sure you can comfortably engage in what is asked of you so that it remains enjoyable rather than another source of stress in your often busy life.
“ If we’ve over-committed or over-worked ourselves in terms of knowledge and skills or the time we have available to volunteer, we’re probably going to start feeling stressed.
“Finding a balance between stepping out of your comfort zone and playing to your strengths will also help.
“While volunteer work that connects you with others is likely to benefit your mental well-being more, be insightful. If you are experiencing social anxiety, group work may not be for you!
The way we frame volunteer work in our minds is also important.
First of all, try to be aware of the good you are doing. Really take it into account.
“You have to see everything you do as helping others,” Laurie says. “You have to take a moment to notice that what you are doing is really affecting the lives of others.
“Take a moment to think about the people who would be helped by the activities you do.
Continuing with this theme, make sure you recognize that your work, no matter how small compared to others, is making an impact. Don’t get caught up in the “I should do more” guilt trap.
“We can feel guilty that we can’t help everyone, so it’s important to focus on the people we can and are already helping,” says Shelley. “As the saying goes, ‘To the world you can be one person, but to one person you can be the world.”
“You are one person and cannot help everyone. Instead, focus on the difference you are making for your community.
Do what you can, no matter how small it seems – and notice the impact it has not only on others, but on your own happiness. Feel that glow.
“We often think that there are these real constraints to volunteering,” Laurie tells us. “Like: I should only do this if I have a lot of free time or a lot of money.
“What science is showing is that we have these startling misconceptions about the power to do for others.
“We think doing a little bit won’t help that much, but science shows it helps us a lot more than we expect.
“Doing for others is a real path to happiness”.
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Volunteer Week takes place June 1-7 and highlights the amazing ways people can give back and help others. To get involved, click on here.
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