Many of us have heard the oft-repeated age-old adage: it is better to give than to receive. A study published in 2005 by the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine suggests that this aphorism may be more accurate than one would think.
The journal article titled Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to be Good written by Stephen G. Post details links between altruistic emotions and behaviors and greater well-being, health, and longevity.
Stephen G. Post is a professor, author, and researcher who teaches at the Stoney Brook University School of Medicine. He has written multiple best-selling books on achieving happiness through giving to others. His 2008 book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People: A Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, draws from this study.
The health findings are particularly interesting. One finding is that receiving love could lower your risk of developing heart disease. Rabbits that were talked to, pet, and cared for while being fed developed 60% less atherosclerosis, or hardening and narrowing of arteries, than rabbits not cared for similarly that ate similar diets high in fat. Other studies show that individuals who reported a warm relationship to their mothers were less likely to develop coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, alcoholism, and duodenal ulcers than those who did not report a warm relationship to their mother. These studies lay out the basically undisputed knowledge that receiving love makes us healthier individuals.
The eye-opening finding from this study was that higher health and happiness results were associated with giving love and help rather than receiving it. Findings from the study suggest that cultivating loving emotions and engaging in helping activities may contribute to health and longevity by preventing the accelerating of aging on the cellular level. This could mean life extension on a macro scale if one was to help consistently throughout a lifetime.
Additionally, there are connections between helping others and boosting personal happiness. One study showed that adults aged 65 and older engaged in volunteerism had fewer symptoms of depression or anxiety and significantly higher scores in life-satisfaction than those who did not. Post also details studies that show that altruistic behavior has a connection to enhanced social integration, less focus on personal problems, enhanced meaningfulness, increased perception of self-efficacy and competence, improved mood, and an increased physical lifestyle. These improvements in mental and physical health are especially pronounced in older individuals.
Older individuals are not the only group that benefits from increased volunteerism. The study also shows that increased helping behavior contributes to diminished depression rates in adolescents. Teen depression is a significant mental health issued, and suicide is the third leading cause of death for individuals aged 15 to 24. Increases in helping behavior may drive these numbers down.
The study’s conclusion is that a strong correlation exists between the well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of individuals that are emotionally kind and compassionate in their charitable activities. The complete study can be found here.
These important insights can help us answer the question of how to be happy. Answers may lie in increasing volunteerism, spending time with loved ones, becoming more socially integrated into your community, and helping others rather than fixating on personal issues.
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