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Helping Others Helps Ourselves

Giving during the holidays, or at any time, not only helps others but helps ourselves and appears to lead to a happier and healthier life, says Stephen G. Post, Ph.D., professor of Preventive Medicine, head of the Division of Medicine in Society and director, Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics, Stony Brook University School of Medicine.

Post reviewed scientific and medical studies covering several decades on the benefits experienced by individuals who act sincerely for the benefit of others. His findings are detailed in the online edition of the World Health Organization’s The International Journal of Person Centered Medicine.

Post, author of The Hidden Gifts of Helping, has studied the benefits and links between altruism, compassion, happiness, healing and health for nearly two decades. In “It’s Good to be Good: 2011 Fifth Annual Scientific Report on Health, Happiness and Helping Others,” he points out that happiness, health and even longevity are benefits that have been reported in more than 50 investigations using a variety of methodologies.

“In total, the research on the benefits of giving is extremely powerful, to the point that suggests healthcare professionals should consider recommending such activities to patients,” says Post. “However, there is a caveat in that we need to balance our lives and should know our limitations when giving of our time and self to others, as overdoing may affect us negatively.”

In a recent national survey of 4,582 American adults, 41 percent of Americans volunteered an average of two hours per week; 68 percent of volunteers agreed that volunteering “has made me feel physically healthier”; and 96 percent said volunteering “makes people happier.” In addition, the survey results indicated that volunteers have less trouble sleeping, less anxiety and better friendships and social networks.

“If you could create a pill with the same results as indicated by the survey of American volunteers, it would be a best seller overnight,” says Post.

Some of the recurring concepts related to giving and health based on the review of the results of scientific studies include:
· Giving and even just thinking about giving in a spirit of generosity are linked to health and well-being.
· People who think too much about themselves and their own desires – or their own troubles – are not very happy.
· Helping is also a form of self-help when the giver has experienced the same problems as those receiving.
· Volunteerism has positive impacts on happiness, mood, self-esteem and physical and mental health.
· Giving can be a lifelong benefit for those who start young.
· Altruism is associated with a substantial reduction in mortality rates and is linked to longevity.

“After examining the many studies it is difficult to dismiss the idea that it’s good to be good,” emphasizes Post. “The right ‘dose’ of good will varies from person to person and there is no detailed prescription for everyone, but the principle can at least be established scientifically.”

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