Helping others is good for your health



Performing acts of kindness and helping other people can be good for people’s health and well-being, according to research published by the American Psychological Association in the ‘Psychological Bulletin’. But not all good-hearted behavior is equally beneficial as it depends on many factors, including the type of kindness, the definition of well-being, and the age, gender, and other demographic factors of the donor.

“Prosocial behavior (altruism, cooperation, trust and compassion) are necessary ingredients of a well-functioning and harmonious society,” explains lead author Bryant PH Hui, an assistant research professor at the University of Hong Kong. of the shared culture of humanity, and our analysis shows that it also contributes to physical and mental health. “

Previous studies have suggested that people who engage in more prosocial behavior are happier and have better physical and mental health than those who don’t spend as much time helping others. However, not all studies have found evidence for that link, and the strength of the connection varies widely in the research literature.

To better understand what drives that variation, Hui and her colleagues conducted a meta-analysis of 201 independent studies, including 198,213 participants in total, that looked at the connection between prosocial behavior and well-being. Overall, they found that there was a modest bond between the two. Although the effect size was small, it is still significant, according to Hui, given the number of people who perform acts of kindness every day.

“More than a quarter of Americans volunteer, for example,” he notes. “A modest effect size can still have a significant social impact when many people engage in the behavior.”

Digging deeper into the research, Hui and her colleagues found that random acts of kindness, such as helping an older neighbor carry groceries, were more strongly associated with general well-being than with formal prosocial behavior, such as scheduled volunteering for a meal. charity organization.

That may be because informal help is more casual and spontaneous and can more easily lead to forming social connections, according to Hui. Informal giving is also more diverse and less likely to become stale or monotonous, he adds.

The researchers also found a stronger link between goodness and what is known as eudaimonic well-being (which focuses on self-actualization, realizing one’s potential, and finding meaning in life), than between goodness and well-being. hedonic (which refers to happiness and positive feelings).

The effects varied by age, adds Hui, who began this research at the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom. Younger donors reported higher levels of general well-being, eudaimonic well-being, and psychological functioning, while older donors reported higher levels of physical health.

Additionally, women showed stronger relationships between prosociality and various measures of well-being compared to men, perhaps because women are stereotypically expected to be more affectionate and generous, and thus gain a stronger sense of good feelings. for acting in accordance with those social norms, according to the study.

Finally, the researchers found that studies that were specifically designed to measure the connection between prosociality and well-being showed a stronger link between the two than studies that analyzed data from other large surveys not specifically designed to study the topic.

Future research should examine several other potentially important moderators that the research literature has largely ignored until now, the researchers suggest, for example, the potential effects of donor ethnicity and social class.

The researchers could also examine whether more prosociality is always a good thing, or if there is an “ideal level” of prosociality beyond which too much kindness and generosity becomes detrimental to the donor, according to Hui.

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