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Practice Connection and Service to Others, Part 2

Happiness researcher Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky

Many studies have shown that the healthiest and happiest people are commonly the first people to offer helping hands to coworkers and strangers in particular. In her extensive study of happiness, research psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky found many reasons altruism is associated with health. It fosters a sense of mastery, which often creates healthy physiological changes. Also, focusing on others who seem to be worse off than we are allows us to see ourselves as healthier than we had previously thought. Still another health-enhancing aspect is that while we are involved in helping others, we focus less on our own problems. 

A large study by Howard Andrews, a psychology professor at Columbia University, yielded a wealth of information that clearly demonstrates the health advantages we experience when we help others. If you’re seeking confirmation that altruism can benefit you, you need look no further than some of these impressive numbers. In the study, 3,296 people who were engaged in volunteer work at more than twenty different volunteer organizations filled out a seventeen-question survey. Here are some of Andrews’s findings: 

 

  • Ninety-five percent of participants said they experienced a sense of physical and emotional well-being during and immediately following their helping activities.
  • Seventy-eight percent said they experienced this again during the following week when they were not serving others.
  • Ninety percent said they believed their health was better than that of others their age.
  • • Those who volunteered weekly throughout the year had a tenfold health advantage over those who volunteered once a year.
  • • Those who got the greatest psychological and emotional benefit also got the greatest health benefit. 
  • • A very interesting finding was that volunteers who primarily helped strangers reported the best health, as opposed to those who primarily helped family or friends. The researchers on the Andrews team hypothesized that the reason for this was that the ones who helped family or friends were often motivated by obligation, guilt, or economic necessity. The people who helped strangers did so because it helped them feel like they were part of something larger than themselves; they felt an openhearted connection or oneness with other people in general. 
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