One of the things that strengthens a community are the acts of kindness, both large and small, that its members bestow on one another. But as much as such acts aid those being helped, they actually aid the helpers as well. That may explain why our brains appear to be hard-wired for altruism.
Here’s how the good you do for others returns to you.
Helping Others Eases Their Loneliness...And Yours
Being lonely isn’t just tough on your emotional state—it actually affects your brain.
Scientists have discovered that mice kept in chronic social isolation were not only deeply fearful but their brains showed alterations. Among people, isolation has been linked to depression and anxiety as well as increased risk of poor physical health.†
But now evidence suggests that empathy—the ability to put oneself in another’s shoes—can help overcome loneliness and isolation.
“A lot of people believe empathy is an inborn quality; you either have it or you don’t. But we are hardwired to understand other people,” says Helen Riess, MD, author of The Empathy Effect (Sounds True). “The more we get to know people not like us, the easier it is to empathize because we realize that we are all part of the human fabric.”
Helping Others Can Help You Find a Sense of Purpose
Psychologists and self-help authors alike have long promoted the idea of discovering meaning in passionate interests. Research has shown a link leading a purposeful life and reduced rates of illness.†
While it is possible to find your life’s meaning in isolation—the image of the scientist engaged in solo fieldwork comes to mind—most people find their sense of purpose in engagement with others, an idea supported by at least one study.
How do you find meaning in life? One way to start is to find volunteer opportunities in your community and see which one speaks to you: Building houses for the homeless? Reading to children? Visiting people in nursing homes? And if the first activity you try doesn’t light a permanent spark, try journaling your feelings and impressions to help you zero in on exactly what causes your inner light to glow.
Helping Others Can Help You Keep Your Life Balanced
An excessive focus on work isn’t uncommon, and it can lead to problems in keeping your life on an even keel. What’s more, “being out of balance can cause problems with your mood and your physical health,” says Judith Orloff, MD, author of Emotional Freedom (Crown Publishing Group).
Research backs up her assertion; one study found a link between putting in long hours on the job and a host of health issues, including heart disease.†
Taking time to help others can help you climb off the overwork hamster wheel and find a better sense of balance in your life. Remember that balance isn’t something that can be achieved or checked off a to-do list; it’s a process that needs to be reexamined and renegotiated all the time.
Helping Others Helps You Maintain Perspective
Everyone faces challenges in life—but stumbling blocks can feel like boulders if you concentrate on them too intensely.
That’s why being of service to others, especially people facing significant difficulties, may lead to develop a greater sense of appreciation for the good in your own life. What’s more, studies suggest that gratitude can increase feelings of emotional well-being.
†The information provided is not an endorsement of any product, and is intended for educational purposes only. NaturesPlus does not provide medical advice and does not offer diagnosis of any conditions. Current research on this topic is not conclusive and further research may be needed in order to prove the benefits described.
The conditions and symptoms described may be indicative of serious health problems, and therefore should be brought to the attention of a qualified healthcare practitioner.
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**These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure or prevent any disease.