Proven by Science: Volunteering Work and Helping Others Will Make You Happy
Unfortunately, our society seems to be exclusively focused on selfish matters these days. Curiously enough, we can even feel a global emotional crisis in the media, related to a deep lack of true happiness and life meaning. Are these things all linked each other? Many studies in the psychological matter can give us the answer.
While ancient, eastern philosophies have been around us for centuries, constantly telling us that the real and true happiness is only achievable by helping other people, we decided to ignore this advice and make the journey on our own terms. Most people are still looking for happiness in material things and vanity pleasures, leaving altruism behind.
The reality is that helping others and being compassionate can help you to be truly happy and feel fulfill, studies says. Let’s take as a first example the following study, “Spending Money on Other Promotes Happiness”, executed by the Harvard BS professor Michael Norton. This study demonstrated striking facts about what’s better for us: spending money in ourselves or in other people.
Prof. Norton took half of the participants and gave them money to spend it on vain things, while the other half were told that the money received has to be spent in other people, always looking for improving their lives in some way. When the study ended, those who spent the money in others claimed to be significantly happier than the ones who spent it on selfish things for themselves.
What does this mean for us? Science is telling us that charity is an activity that triggers well-being processes in our brains. Even this have a fancy name in the psychology world: the helper’s high. When we help someone in need, our brain notices the difference and releases chemicals that help us to feel great. Also, the mesolimbic system, which is the area of the brain that operates the reward-feeling process, activates when we donate money or goods to a charity organization.
Another valuable study talks about the effects of volunteering on our levels of stress and inner peace, which is something we feel thankful for. This study carried over by the UnitedHealth Group a few years ago claims that 78 percent of the volunteers that participated in a 12-month period of charitable activities experienced great emotional benefits, mainly in terms of low-stress levels and mindfulness. Physical benefits were also reported by the volunteers, like having more energy and being healthier.
The same study claims that 94 percent of the participants in these charitable activities attributed their highly positive mood to the volunteering work they did during the previous year of their lives.
Finally, the National Institute of Health ran a study about brain-imaging and neuroscience several years ago. This study showed that our brains are willing to make us feel pleasure in a wide array of situations. The curious thing about it is that the pleasure centers that works when we eat something we like, have sex, or drive the car we always wanted also works when we give money to charity. What it’s even more curious is that we feel the same when we see another people giving to charity.
This means that our brains react the same way during both situations: when we give and when we observe someone else giving to charity. So, if we pay attention to the answers science is giving us, eastern wisdom was right. Helping others and joining volunteering work can get us closer to real happiness, beyond all the anxiety and stress issues, widely present in the western society.
The answer is quite clear now. Let’s quit our shallow search of happiness in money and material things. Instead, let’s get it where it truly is. Helping our fellow men.