Selflessness can be difficult. In today’s me-first world, it can feel like it’s every person for themselves, with the only way to get ahead being to look out for number one and only number one. But a new bit of science suggests that being good to your neighbour might actually improve your well-being.
The study, published in the science journal BMJ Open, was conducted by experts at Birmingham and Southampton universities who administered questionnaires to some 5,000 Brits every two years from 1996 to 2008. They found that those who regularly participated in some form of volunteering also reported a higher level of mental well-being than those who didn’t volunteer.
And here, this whole time, we thought that the nice guys were finishing last.
Interestingly, the study found that volunteers 40 years of age and older were more likely to see a correlation between their altruistic pastimes and their happiness than those younger than 40.
“The volunteering action might provide those groups with greater opportunities for beneficial activities and social contacts, which in turn may have protective effects on health status,” the study found. The act of getting out of the house to participate in a new activity gives us the opportunity to build our social network. And, in turn, that makes us feel good.
One hypothesis as to why the effects aren’t the same among young people, is that volunteers of that age group are often required to give their time, either by schools, teams, their jobs or other organizations that encourage or require volunteer time, rather than because they simply want to pay it forward.
So, volunteering your time is good for mental health, and that only increases as we age. Our suggestion? Get in the habit now! Help out with your kids’ bottle drive, or support your local Terry Fox run later this month. Your heart and mind will thank you for it.