You may have read about the newly released research study from the University of British Columbia about toddlers being happier when they give to others (see 1 below). The lead author, Prof. Lara Aknin, stated that “these findings show that children are actually happier giving than receiving.” This is no surprise in my book and there is much that we can learn about stress management, resilience, and happiness from this and similar studies in recent years.
In a nutshell, if you want to cope better with stress serve others. Stress management and resilience can be enhanced by connecting with others in need. For example, my students and I conducted a study of college students attending spring break immersion trips where they worked with those who are poor and marginalized either domestically or overseas (see 2 below). Assessing their resilience (as well as other psychological constructs like compassion, stress management, empathy) before they left for the trip, when they returned, and several months later in follow up we found that those who went on these community service learning experiences managed stress over time better than those who did not attend these trips. We believe that this finding is due to better perspective taking. When you have a sense of how much of the world lives (not the Hollywood celebrities and even some of your peers) you have a better perspective on life as well as the hassles and challenges of our lives too. Additionally, you experience more empathy, compassion, and solidarity with others as well.
Research by several of my colleagues (see 3 below) has also found that volunteerism (defined as two hours per week over many years) reduces mortality rates by 40 percent. This is really quite remarkable research. Since it isn’t a randomized clinical trial we can’t be exactly sure how this works but it may speak to the notion that serving others can be both good for your mental and physical health.
So, if you want to manage stress better and be more resilient, think about giving back by helping others in need. You’ll probably get more than you can possibly give if you do so. And you’ll likely be happier to boot.
So, what do you think?
(1) Aknin, L. B., Hamlin, J. K., & Dunn, E. W. (2012). Giving leads to happiness in young children. PLoS ONE, 7(6): e39211. http://www.plosone.org/article/info%3Adoi%2F10.1371%2Fjournal.pone.0039211
(2) Plante, T. G., Lackey, K., & Hwang, J. (2009). The impact of immersion trips on development of compassion among college students, Journal of Experiential Education, 32, 28-43. http://aee.metapress.com/content/57m26684mn78x623/
(3) Harris, A. H. S. & Thoresen, C. E. (2005). Volunteering is associated with delayed mortality in older people: Analysis of the longitudinal study of aging. Journal of Health Psychololgy, 10 (6), 739-752. http://www.chce.research.va.gov/docs/pdfs/pi_publications/Harris/2005_Ha...