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The Benefits of a Communal Orientation

Research explains why helping others makes us happier.

Research shows the benefits of a communal orientation.

Research shows the benefits of a communal orientation.

In the 21st installment of Sage’s Relationship Matters podcast, hosted by Dr. Bjarne Holmes of Champlain College, Bonnie Le (a graduate student in Dr. Emily Impett's lab at the Univ. of Toronto) talks about the personal and interpersonal effects of having a communal orientation.

Communally oriented people care for the welfare and needs of others, and want others to care for them in return. Ms. Le explained, “In a communal orientation… we give because of need, we give because we care about the well being of other people. And so you don’t necessarily expect something in return when you’re giving help or care in a communal relationship or when you have a communal orientation, but you do expect that people will behave the same in return [eventually].”

Contrast this with with an exchange orientation, in which people expect direct benefit or pay for labor or service. Ms. Le explained that exchange behaviors are more inherent to employer/employee situations or business transactions, whereas communal behaviors are more characteristic of close relationships. What’s interesting is that people with a strong communal orientation generally apply their communal views to everyone, not just their close relationships.

Ms. Le pointed out, “You might expect this to be costly to the Self, if you always want to give, but are not necessarily expecting people to give something back on a one-to-one basis.”

However, the researchers suspected that people with communal orientations experience strong personal reward from the emotions they feel when helping others. To test this hypothesis, the research team asked several hundred people to record their behaviors and emoti
ons every day for a four-week period.

As predicted, communally oriented people reported greater self-esteem, more general life satisfaction, greater relationship satisfaction, and more love for humanity. The daily positive emotions people experienced when helping others, in particular, explained the link between a communal orientation and these positive outcomes. Helping others created positive feelings; receiving from others, in contrast, did not result in as much positive affect.

Ms. Le said, “Being inclined to care and help others can paradoxically be rewarding for the self, even when we’re not looking for explicit benefits. When we’re caring for others, we actually feel better about ourselves, we have more self-worth, and we also feel more satisfaction and love in our relationships.”

Bottom line message: giving to people feels good. So, be a giver.

The podcast can be heard in its entirety here, and the full research paper can be read here.

This post was originially written for the website Science of Relationships.

Le, B. M., Impett, E. A., Kogan, A., Webster, G. D., & Cheng, C. (in press). The personal and interpersonal rewards of communal orientation. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships,DOI: 10.1177/0265407512466227.

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