Study: People Who Help Others May Live Longer Compared to People Who Don’t

Help others to help yourself, research shows.

A five-year study by Poulin and colleagues (2013) shows that helping others (such as providing transportation, doing errands, shopping, housework or childcare) is associated with a decreased association between stress and mortality.

In the study, people’s level of stress did not predict mortality for those who provided help, but it did predict mortality for those who did not. It is likely that focusing on other people’s well-being and needs have stress-reducing effects, and it may increase resilience against stress.

However, the causal relationship between exposure to stress, prosocial behavior, and the development of disease still needs to be examined. The generalizability of these findings across different types of helping behaviors, types of stress, and populations also needs to be established.

Others studies have found similar health benefits. One study (Harris & Thoresen, 2005) found that volunteering (defined as two hours per week over many years) significantly reduced the risk of mortality.

Children have also been found to be happier when they give than when they receive (Aknin, Hamlin, & Dunn, 2012). The researchers found that, before the age of two, toddlers show greater happiness when they give than when they receive.

Interestingly enough, the children were happier when they engaged in costly giving (i.e., when you forfeit your own resources in order to give) than when they gave the same treat at no cost.

Image: Antonella Beccaria
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