What are the health benefits of altruism?

1. Helping others feels good

There is some evidence to suggest that when you help others, it can promote physiological changes in the brain linked with happiness.1

Helping others can also improve our support networks and encourage us to be more active.4 This in turn can improve our self-esteem.3

2. It creates a sense of belonging and reduces isolation

Volunteering and helping others can also help us feel a sense of belonging, make new friends and connect with our community.3,4 Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a food bank can help reduce loneliness and isolation.4

3. It helps keep things in perspective

Many people don’t realise the impact that a different perspective can have on their outlook on life.

Helping others, especially those who are less fortunate than yourself, can help to put things into perspective and make you feel more positive. There is some evidence that being aware of your own acts of kindness, as well as the things you are grateful for, can increase feelings of happiness, optimism, and satisfaction.5,6 Doing good may help you to have a more positive outlook about your own circumstances.

4. It helps make the world a happier place – it’s contagious!

Acts of kindness have the potential to make the world a happier place. An act of kindness can improve feelings of confidence, being in control, happiness and optimism.6

It may also encourage others to repeat the good deed that they’ve experienced themselves – contributing to a more positive community.7

5. The more you do for others, the more you do for yourself

The benefits of helping others can last long after the act itself, both for you and them.

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References
  1. Post S. It’s Good To Be Good: 2014 Biennial Scientific Report on Health, Happiness, Longevity, and Helping Others. Int J Pers Cent Med. 2014;2:1–53.
  2. Pillemer K, Fuller-Rowell TE, Reid MC, Wells NM. Environmental volunteering and health outcomes over a 20-year period. Gerontologist. 2010;50(5):594–602.
  3. Brown KM, Hoye R, Nicholson M. Self-Esteem, Self-Efficacy, and Social Connectedness as Mediators of the Relationship Between Volunteering and Well-Being. J Soc Serv Res. 2012;38(4):468–83. 
  4. Pilkington PD, Windsor TD, Crisp DA. Volunteering and subjective well-being in midlife and older adults: The role of supportive social networks. Journals Gerontol - Ser B Psychol Sci Soc Sci. 2012;67 B(2):249–60. 
  5. Otake K, Shimai S, Tanaka-Matsumi J, Otsui K, Fredrickson BL. Happy people become happier through kindness: A counting kindnesses intervention. J Happiness Stud. 2006;7(3):361–75. 
  6. Kerr SL, O’Donovan A, Pepping CA. Can Gratitude and Kindness Interventions Enhance Well-Being in a Clinical Sample? J Happiness Stud. 2014;16(1):17–36. 
  7. Pressman SD, Kraft TL, Cross MP. It’s good to do good and receive good: The impact of a ‘pay it forward’ style kindness intervention on giver and receiver well-being. J Posit Psychol. 2015;10(4):293–302.