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The Perks of Being an Altruist

Written by Dr. Kim Aikens on October 1st, 2012

Everybody knows the story of Scrooge. He’s a sickly, mean, and selfish guy. With each act of kindness he commits, however, he becomes healthier, happier, and better off overall. What everybody doesn’t know is that Scrooge isn’t just a metaphor for the jerk next door. Research over the past 20 years has repeatedly shown that helping others can be powerfully beneficial to your health and wellbeing. What goes around really does come back around.  Check out these three interesting studies as proof:


Longevity in Mothers

First we look at a long-term study started in 1956 at Cornell University. The study took 427 married women with children and followed them for 30 years. It was hypothesized that the mothers with more children would be under significantly more stress and suffer earlier deaths than the women with fewer children. What the researchers found instead was extremely surprisingly. Results of the study showed that the women’s longevity was not affected by numbers of children, the education they received, or even work status. What they did find was that major illness was associated with the women who didn’t volunteer. Of the total women studied, 52% who did not belong to a volunteer organization suffered a major illness compared to only 36% who did belong.


Longevity in Residents

Take a look at another study from 1990 conducted in California. Researchers followed 2,025 residents and found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44% less likely to die during the study period than those who didn’t volunteer. Even more powerful is the fact that the decreased likelihood of death brought about by volunteering was larger than the decreased mortality brought about by exercising four times a week. In short volunteering, according to this study, improves your longevity more than exercising four days a week.


Happiness in Retirees

Lastly on the list is a study comparing retirees over the age of 65. As you might expect, those who volunteered showed significantly higher life satisfaction and will to live, as well as fewer symptoms of depression and anxiety over non-volunteers.


Since kindness and compassion can so obviously benefit your own health, it stands to reason that they should benefit the health of your company too.  At work, you can practice altruism by doing something as small as getting someone a cup of coffee.  You could also tape a sticky note or card to someone desk, simply thanking him or her for the work he or she does. Volunteering or involving yourself in an altruistic company program would also be a great way to get started.


Remember, these acts should not become overwhelming, which can negate their positive effects. Doing good, in the right balance, combined with equal doses of gratitude, optimism and mindfulness can make you healthier and happier both in the workplace and at home.

Kim Aikens

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