The benefits of helping others aren’t limited to those on the receiving end.
This article explains how helping others improves your life, and how to start.
Of course, if you have any questions after reading, let me know in the comments 🙂
The benefits of helping others
Neuroimaging studies suggest we’re neurologically wired for giving our time and resources to others (1).
In fact, there are theories that such a drive to help others might offer evolutionary advantages (2).
However, the focus of this article will be on more immediate and personal benefits of helping others.
First, let’s talk about how helping others might – pun alert – affect your mood.
Potential benefits to mood and well-being
A 2013 study explored the influence of various forms of altruism on well-being (3).
To clarify, altruism is an orientation toward concern or compassion for the welfare of others.
For this study, researchers looked at data from a previous study of successful aging.
Altruistic attitudes, volunteering, and informally helping others all predicted positive emotions and interactions.
Furthermore, volunteering and informally helping others were predictors of life satisfaction.
Additionally, volunteering was a predictor of fewer depressive symptoms.
Next, let’s look at a 2018 study examining the relationship between volunteering and mental, physical, and emotional health outcomes (4).
This study looked at two forms of volunteering – self-oriented and other-oriented.
Other-oriented volunteering is more altruistic, humanitarian-concerned, and focused on other people.
Self-oriented volunteering, on the other hand, is intended to be more self-enhancing and self-actualizing.
Both types appeared to benefit mental and physical health, life satisfaction, social well-being, and depression.
However, other-oriented volunteering appeared to have stronger effects on all outcomes except for depression.
Finally, let’s look at a pair of 2021 studies investigating benevolence, or the sense of being able to give (5).
In the first study, participants reporting higher benevolence also reported lower stress, emotional exhaustion, and depression.
Similarly, in the second study, those reporting higher benevolence reported lower perceived stress, depression, and anxiety.
The second study also demonstrated a positive correlation between benevolence and self-compassion.
Next, let’s talk about how helping others might benefit your cognition.
Potential benefits to cognition
A 2018 systematic review explores the evidence that volunteering might benefit cognitive function (6).
Specifically, the authors found evidence supporting benefits to overall cognition and attention control.
Furthermore, they saw trends suggesting benefits to task switching, verbal memory, and visual memory.
The authors also found that these benefits might be greatest for those with impaired cognitive functioning.
They posit that these improvements might be the effect of increased physical, social, and cognitive activity.
That said, the authors also acknowledge that there are several limitations to their research.
Notably, they mention a lack of trials that demonstrate causation.
However, the authors note that some of the most robustly-designed studies suggest the strongest effects.
How to get started
If you don’t currently make helping others a priority, you might feel like it’s going to impose a significant burden.
That’s totally understandable.
After all, you have your existing commitments to your partner, your kids, your job, and yourself.
You see all over the media these grand gestures of people changing the world.
Don’t worry about all that noise.
Look for convenient opportunities that meet your life’s circumstances.
Recall that even informally helping others can make your life better.
Seek out ways each day to extend kindness with nothing expected in return.
This could mean simply opening the door for somebody behind you or similar small gestures.
It might not seem like much to you, but it might mean the world to whomever is on the receiving end.
Reflect on what kinds of causes and organizations interest you most.
What local volunteer groups might benefit most from your time, effort, and unique skills?
Even being around people who like to help others might lead to their altruism rubbing off on you (7).
If you’re short on time, consider donating possessions or money.
What’s lying around your home that you might give to others who might benefit from its use?
To what causes might you allocate some of your disposable income?
Whatever you do, start where you are and do what you can.
After all, that’s all you can do.
You’ve got this.