Helping Others Is Good For Your Health
Thomas G. Plante
I have an elderly patient in my small psychotherapy practice who is a wealthy Silicon Valley retired professional with no relatives. He participates in volunteer and philanthropic activities that provide him with meaning, direction, and joy. He says he gets much more out of giving to others than they get out of his generosity. He’s not alone. Many people report that helping others feels good, however what they (and you) might not know is that research has demonstrated that giving to others actually helps us a great deal.
For example, many colleges and high schools offer students immersion service trips during Thanksgiving, Christmas, and spring breaks. Students work with the poor and marginalized rather than taking a relaxing vacation focused on their own needs and pleasures. Some of these experiences occur at local social service and community agencies, such as a local homeless shelter, while others occur overseas. At SCU, these alternative trips are very popular.
My students and I conducted and published several studies where we assess compassion, stress management, well-being, spiritual fulfillment, and so forth before volunteers leave for a service-oriented trip, immediately upon their return, and several months later. We then compared their responses to other students (matched by age and gender) who choose to not go on these alternative community based learning experiences.
not only are students who help others more compassionate once they return from an immersion service trip and months later, but they also have higher well-being and stress management scores
those who volunteer an average of two hours per week throughout their lives have a 40 percent lower mortality rate than those who don't