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.
- 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