How giving to others is giving to ourselves

Giving is the act of freely parting with something and offering it to someone or something else who needs it, this could be a stranger, friend, family member, charity or the local and wider community. This can involve material giving such as money or gifts, or immaterial things like using our time, skills, knowledge and kindness to help others (Mind, 2016).

Research has found that by giving to others through acts of voluntary work has significantly predictive of better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, happiness, lower depressive symptoms and lower psychological distress (Yeung, Zhang and Kim, 2018).

Volunteering in the community has found to give people a sense of purpose and belonging and therefore increasing their life satisfaction and improving their mental health. The research found that these benefits were most significant for people who were older or who had lost their life-defining role such as being a ‘worker’ or ‘parent’ (Bradley, 1999).

‘It is one of the most beautiful compensations of this life that no man can sincerely try to help another without helping himself’ – Ralph Waldo Emerson

“For it is in giving that we receive” – St. Francis of Assisi

A study found that MRI scans showed that altruistic behaviours activates the same brain system as when we receive a reward (Moll et al, 2006) suggesting that prosocial and helping behaviours may give humans a positive physical sensation which has been termed a ‘helpers high’ (Luks, 1988). Further research has found that altruism can significantly emotional wellbeing and reduce stress in the long term (Luks and Payne, 2001).

A 2012 YouGov poll found that 80% of participants agreed that being kind has had a positive influence in their own health, whilst 87% said that they felt good after they had done something for someone else.

Research has stated that human beings have a natural potential for altruism when they are functioning at a healthy capacity which promotes integrated states of physical, mental, social and spiritual well-being (Cloninger and Zohar, 2010).

Fredrickson (2011) found that the act of giving to others is contagious, it suggested that when an individual gives they experience good feelings as well as making the person who is given to more likely to act kindly and give to others which as a result promotes happiness and wellbeing.

Acts of giving can take up various forms, the NHS has suggested some ways to give in day to day life;

  • Say thank you to someone for something they’ve done for you
  • Phone a relative or friend who needs support or company
  • Ask someone how they are and really listen to the answer
  • Offer to lend a hand to a stranger if you see them struggling

Some bigger ways to give back can include;

  • Volunteer in the local community – this can be done by looking for opportunities on volunteering websites e.g.
  • Arrange a day out with a friend or relative if they need your support

Action for happiness also outline 3 ways to start giving back to others and being kind to increase our wellbeing:

  1. Plan for kindness – do some thinking about what you might do to spread some kindness, write a small list of actions you could take in your daily life that could promote happiness.
  2. Have a kindness day – choose a particular day where you perform 5 acts of kindness that give back to different people and think about how you felt after each act
  3. Do it together – Try to do kind acts with others around you, this can help build connections which also increase happiness