It’s official, doing good for others is good for your health. New research has uncovered what’s been called the ‘helper’s halo’ – the ability to lower stress, increase happiness levels, boost self esteem and reduce anger, simply by being more considerate and doing good deeds for others.
The study, supported by healthcare provider Simplyhealth and carried out by scientists at Mindlab International, investigated whether improvements to physical and psychological health can actually be gained by carrying out altruistic acts, and follows similar research carried out by Harvard University two decades ago.
Key findings included:
*Average increase in self esteem by 31%
*Stress levels lowered amongst the group by 36%
*Reported feelings of anger reduced by a quarter
*An increase in positive thoughts and feelings
*Awareness of other people’s feelings and empathy towards members of the community increased by 10% from 71% to 81%
Participants aged between 18 and 55 years old were recruited by Mindlab and asked to go out into their local community and perform simple, random, selfless tasks of their choosing for nine days. Acts included, giving someone money for a parking ticket if they had no change for the machine, painting a neighbour’s garden fence and clearing their basement and tending to a friend’s allotment when they were on holiday.
A series of experiments and laboratory tests were carried out on each of the participants before and after the trial. These include the monitoring of electrodermal activity (EDA) skin conductance which is a sensitive measure of stress levels in humans, heart rate and four psychological assessments to quantify emotional states and personality traits.
Dr David Lewis-Hodgson chartered psychologist and founder of Mindlab International comments: “Put simply, everyone wins – doing good things for others can not only make them feel good, but it has a health benefit to you too. Just like the Domino Effect, making an individual happy by taking time out to think about them leads that person to do the same for someone else, so spreading those feelings of wellbeing.
“This new study resonates with the findings of a similar study carried out by Harvard University in 1988, in which researchers identified what they called the ‘Mother Teresa Effect’. As this study shows, being more considerate to others can reduce stress levels. The effects of stress on the body are well documented – it can suppress the immune system, lead to a rise in blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attack and stroke, and contribute to infertility. Therefore to improve our chances of being healthy we should all go out and start doing good to others today.”
44 year old Richard, one of the study participants, adds: “It may not sound much, but on one of the days I simply let someone with lots of shopping stand in front of me in the supermarket queue. I was surprised at how grateful people were when I did such small things. It made me think about how little we actually do for each other in our day to day lives.”
Other participant altruistic deeds included:
*Buying a train ticket for someone in the queue as the credit card machine wasn’t working and they couldn’t pay for it
*Helping an elderly lady carry her food shopping to the car
*Helping clear their mum’s house and taking all the rubbish to the tip
*Stopping in the car allowing a lady with a pushchair to cross the road safely.
The study was commissioned as part of Bothered Britain Week (6 – 10 September 2010) – a national health campaign which aims to discover what we are bothered about as a nation, and whether we really are bothered about our health and each other. For the latest campaign updates you can follow on twitter @simplyhealthuk or log onto Facebook and search for ‘we can be bothered’.
James Glover from Simplyhealth comments: “We were really pleased to hear that doing kind deeds for other people encourages them to return the favour, spreading that feeling of goodwill. If you’ve recently helped out a friend or neighbour and would like to share your story then visit http://www.wecanbebothered.co.uk/.”