Helping Others Offers Surprising Benefits
Help yourself by helping others.
Posted Jul 02, 2012
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.
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.
(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...