Doing Good, Feeling Good
April 10th, 2020
In high school, I took AP Psychology and I did a specific research report on altruism. (Something along the lines of who—males or females—was more likely to open or hold open a door for me if they saw me struggling with a large stack of books in my hands if you were wondering.) And as a brilliantly stupid seventeen-year-old, I’d never even heard of that word before: altruism. We discussed the psychology behind altruism and how it can benefit not only the receiver but also the giver. And as the lesson went on and I began my own research, I eventually learned what it meant. Although I now know what it means, it’s still a bit tricky to define. So I seek the assistance of Psychology Today, who defines altruism as:
[Acting] out of concern for another’s well-being. Often, people behave altruistically when they see others in desperate circumstances and feel empathy and a desire to help.
Simply speaking, acts of altruism are acts of generosity or selflessness. And honestly, isn’t that a great lesson to teach to a bunch of high schoolers? Yes, yes it is. Because even now, almost 10 years later, I still remember it.
Research has shown that those who act altruistically have better mental health. What does that mean really? It means that doing good feels good.
In a time so disconcerting and uncertain, we find ourselves enveloped in stress and anxiety. It’s easy to push kindness and empathy to the side as we focus on the difficulties we face in front of us and what may lie ahead. It’s understandable. But by helping others, we may not realize it, but we’re also helping ourselves. Doing good for others can help reduce our stress and ultimately improve our emotional wellbeing. Mark Rowland from the Mental Health Foundation UK notes that “there is a strong relationship between the wellbeing, happiness and longevity” of those who are compassionate. By being compassionate, by acting altruistically, we, in turn, are helping both others and ourselves.
I’ve discussed specifically taking time out of the hectic craziness to practice self-care, for our own self, to de-stress, relax, and combat loneliness. How about now we take some time to practice altruism, kindness, and empathy. By doing so, we not only help and support others, we’re helping take care of our own wellbeing. If we help spread light and positivity, we’re unknowingly diminishing negativity. So now’s a better time than any—if you haven’t already—to dabble in altruism.
Here are a few ways that altruism can better your mental health and wellbeing:
Endorphins are released.
The positive energy that you feel from being altruistic is similar to that of when you exercise. As you release endorphins, you just feel good naturally.
Helping others feels good.
Some evidence suggests that by helping others, it promotes physiological changes in the brain related to happiness. Regardless, doing good, feels good.
It helps keep things in perspective.
By helping others in less fortunate situations, things are put into perspective and the opportunity to be grateful arises. Altruistic experiences can serve as reminders that life is pretty good.
It’s a good distraction from other problems.
As you help someone else, you mitigate your own self-preoccupation. You’re no longer focusing on yourself, but rather someone else, an inherent distraction.
Your physical health improves.
Studies have shown that not only does mental health benefit from altruism, but so does physical health, with those who opt to volunteer often living longer and having better physical health than non-volunteers.
Kindness is contagious.
Altruism is essentially kindness is action. And an act of kindness has the potential to make the world a better and happier place.
So do us all, and yourselves, a favor: be good, be great, be well.
Lauren Tortolero, MSc
Altruism. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/basics/altruism
Altruism Offers Mental Health Benefits. (2003, October 21). Retrieved from https://www.webmd.com/balance/news/20031021/helping-others-helps-your-own-mind
Doing good does you good. (2020, February 7). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/doing-good-does-you-good
Helper's High: The Benefits (and Risks) of Altruism. (2014, September 4). Retrieved from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/high-octane-women/201409/helpers-high-the-benefits-and-risks-altruism
Suttie, J. (2020, March 10). How to Keep the Greater Good in Mind During the Coronavirus Outbreak. Retrieved from https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/how_to_keep_the_greater_good_in_mind_during_the_coronavirus_outbreak