5 Ways Helping Others Helps You

As a kid, my family actively engaged in opportunities to serve in our community. We participated in clothing drives, visited nursing homes, and helped connect people to resources. I remember getting up early on holidays to prepare and serve meals to individuals who were homeless.


Fast forward to my life with my own family, I wanted to continue the tradition of serving in our community. When I trusted that my own kids were old enough to help others with little collateral damage, I began searching for a place to do family community volunteering.


I absolutely believe that we are part of a global community. When a member of our community is suffering, the collective community shares in a part of that suffering. The human experience is not for the squeamish. If I can ease someone's journey a bit, I'm here for it.


Recently, I learned that that isn't the whole story. Helping others isn't just an act of selfless compassion that benefits the recipient. It helps the giver too. Research has shown that helping others can boost the giver's mental and emotional wellbeing.


How helping helps


We all know how important it is to support members of our community in need, it's good to know how the givers might benefit too.


Here are a couple of ways that givers are also recipients:


Enhanced cognitive health

A recent study showed that compared with older adults who didn’t volunteer, those who did volunteer reported fewer cognitive complaints over time. One explanation is that participating in volunteer activities engages our brains.


An engaged brain is a growing brain.


Different regions of your brain come online when you're problem-solving or socially engaging with others. Think of your brain like a muscle that gets stronger when it’s being worked out. Using our brains helps preserve brain function.


Improved life satisfaction

Some people report greater life satisfaction when they volunteer. In a 2018 study, longer participation in volunteering was linked to greater life satisfaction in older adults.


You know that feeling you get when you're acting out of a sense of purpose? This study suggests that in volunteering this effect is amplified over time. Understanding our purpose contributes to a greater overall sense of life satisfaction.


An engaged brain is a growing brain.

Boosted physical health

In a study of older adults, volunteering regularly over a long period of time led to less disability than volunteering sporadically or not at all.


Volunteering typically involves some degree of physical activity. Spending 2 hours on a Saturday morning organizing a homeless food pantry can get your body moving. It's a nice alternative to spending the morning drooling over Food Network creations (no judgment, I’ve been there too).


Amplified social interactions

Many volunteer activities allow you to work alongside other people, many of whom you’ve never met. We are social beings and social interactions are critical for our well-being. Volunteering can create opportunities for cooperative engagement and in some cases, spawn new relationships.


Deepened empathy

Focusing on someone else’s life circumstances and needs allows us to turn the focus away from ourselves, even if for just a short amount of time. This outward-facing focus can help us grow in our capacity to empathize with others as we experience the world from another’s perspective.


Living a life that focuses on others is a win-win situation. In this season of gift-giving, egg nog, and endless Christmas carols, it can also be another stress management tool in your toolbox.