Altruism is when we put other people’s needs before our own, whether it’s offering your seat to a pregnant woman on a bus or making a cup of tea for a work colleague.

While many of us feel too stressed and busy to worry about helping others, or say we’ll focus on doing good deeds when we have more ‘spare time’, evidence shows that helping others is actually beneficial for your own mental health and wellbeing. It can reduce stress as well as improve mood, self-esteem and happiness.

There are many different ways that you can help others as part of your everyday life. Carrying out good deeds doesn’t need to take a lot of time or even cost money. Small changes can make a big difference.

What are the health benefits of helping others?

Mental health and wellbeing benefits
  • It promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness
    These rushes are often followed by longer periods of calm and can eventually lead to better wellbeing. Helping others improves social support, encourages us to lead a more physically active lifestyle, distracts us from our own problems, allows us to engage in a meaningful activity and improves our self-esteem and competence.

  • It brings a sense of belonging and reduces isolation
    Being a part of a social network leads to a feeling of belonging. Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a drop-in centre can help reduce loneliness and isolation.

  • It helps to keep things in perspective
    Helping others in need, especially those who are less fortunate than yourself, can provide a real sense of perspective and make you realise how lucky you are, enabling you to stop focusing on what you feel you are missing - helping you to achieve a more positive outlook on the things that may be causing you stress.

  • An act of kindness can improve confidence, control, happiness and optimism
    It can also encourage others to repeat the good deed that they’ve experienced themselves – it contributes to a more positive community.

  • The more you do for others, the more you do for yourself
    Evidence shows that the benefits of helping others can last long after the act itself by providing a ‘kindness bank’ of memories that can be drawn upon in the future.
Physical benefits
  • It reduces stress
    Doing things for others helps maintain good health.Positive emotions reduce stress and boost our immune system, and in turn can protect us against disease.

  • It helps get rid of negative feelings
    Negative emotions such as anger, aggression or hostility have a negative impact on our mind and body. Engaging in random acts of kindness can help decrease these feelings and stabilise our overall health.

  • It can help us live longer
    Giving and helping others may increase how long we live. Studies of older people show that those who give support to others live longer than those who don’t.

Find out more about how giving to others can help your mental wellbeing

Related Information

Useful organisations

  • Direct Gov: For general guidance about how to get involved in your community.

  • Kindness UK: Promoting, sharing and uniting kindness. Take part in the first ever nationwide kindness survey.

  • Do-It: Volunteering made easy. Quickly find ways to help in your community by searching their online database of volunteering opportunities in your area.

  • We are what we do: A non-profit company creating ways for millions of people to do more small things to make a big difference.

  • IVO: IVO is a website linking volunteers with charities and other organisations that could benefit from their time, skills and experience. 

  • Action For Happiness: Action for Happiness is a movement of people committed to building a happier society.

  • Volunteers are at the heart of Samaritans’ 201 branches across the UK by delivering core services, running branches, fundraising and raising awareness of what they do.

  • VSO: Put your skills, energy and personal qualities to work helping people break out of poverty.

  • Volunteer Now: Committed to supporting, enabling and celebrating volunteering in all its diversity. Their work links policy, research, innovation, good practice and programme management in the involvement of volunteers.

  • Volunteer Development Scotland: Scotland’s centre for Excellence in volunteering, VDS leads the way in informing and modernising approaches to improve the quality of the volunteering experience for the people of Scotland.

Find out more about how giving to others can help your mental wellbeing