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Giving for mental wellbeing

Most people would agree that giving to others is a wonderful idea. It’s a pro-social behaviour that shows kindness, empathy and support. However there’s also more to it than that; when you give to others it can have a direct positive effect on your own mental wellbeing.

Give to others
Give to others for mental wellbeing

Small acts of kindness towards other people, or larger acts – such as volunteering in your local community – can give you a sense of purpose and make you feel happier and more satisfied about life.

Sometimes we think of wellbeing in terms of what we have: Our comfort, our income, our home, our car, our job. But evidence shows that what we do and the way we think actually have a far more meaningful impact on mental health and wellbeing.

Positive mental wellbeing means feeling good – about yourself and the world around you – and being able to get on with life in the way you want.

Helping and supporting other people, and working with others towards a shared goal, has been shown to be good for our mental health and wellbeing. To give to others is one of the five evidence-based steps we can all take to improve our mental wellbeing. Read more about the five steps for mental wellbeing.

Helping others and helping yourself

It’s good for you

Sometimes we can all can lose sight of the fact that we have something to offer. Doing things for other people actually has a beneficial effect on developing our own wellbeing. Recent research in neuroscience shows that helping others and working cooperatively activates and strengthens certain parts of the brain, enhancing well-being.

Research has shown a simple act of kindness directed towards another improves the functioning of the immune system and stimulates the production of serotonin in both the recipient of the kindness and the person extending the kindness. Even more amazing is that persons observing the act of kindness have similar beneficial results.

Dr Wayne Dyer – The Power of Intention.

Note: Feedback received by Living Well on 21st November, 2011:

Dr. Wayne and the author of this page are absolutely right. I can affirm their comments regarding, “Doing things for others has beneficial effects on developing our own well being.” It’s like good medicine for your soul!

Doing things to help others influences your perception of yourself and the world. The more people see you as a person with skills and abilities, the more you are able to see yourself that way.

How giving can help your mental wellbeing

The research suggest that acts of giving and kindness – small and large – are associated with positive mental wellbeing. Several studies over the past decade have found that many aspects of wellbeing are higher in those who do volunteering projects, compared with those who do not. For example, one study from 2018 noted that:

Research has found that participation in voluntary services is significantly predictive of better mental and physical health, life satisfaction, self-esteem, happiness, lower depressive symptoms, psychological distress, and mortality and functional inability.

Volunteering and health benefits in general adults: Cumulative effects and forms

Research into the brain has shown that giving and co-operating with others can stimulate the reward areas in the brain, helping to create positive feelings. Helping and working with others can also give us a sense of purpose and feelings of self-worth.

Giving our time to others in a constructive way helps us to strengthen our relationships and build new ones, and of course, relationships with others also influence mental wellbeing.

So go on, be really selfish for once. Give to others – for your own mental wellbeing!

How you can give to others

Giving can take many forms, from small everyday acts to larger or more formal commitments.

Today, you could:

  • Say thank you to someone for something they’ve done for you.
  • Phone a relative or friend who may need support or company.
  • Ask a colleague how they are and really listen to the answer.
  • Offer to lend a hand if you see a stranger struggling with bags or a pushchair.
  • Make room in your lane for another car merging in.
  • Mow your neighbour’s nature strip whilst mowing your own lawn.

This week, you could:

  • Arrange a day out for you and a relative.
  • Offer to help a friend with a DIY project or a colleague with a work assignment.
  • Use a unique skill you have to make or do something for someone you love.
  • Sign up to a mentoring project, in which you give time and support to someone who will benefit from it.
  • Volunteer in your local community. That might mean helping out at a local school, hospital or care home.

Take care

In putting this into practice it is important to take care of yourself, to check that you are not doing this out of duty or continuing a habit of always putting others before yourself.

In helping others, take time to notice the conscious choice you made to offer assistance and consider how this fits in with the kind of person you want to be.

5 steps to mental wellbeing

This page is part of a series called the five steps for mental wellbeing. There are other steps we can all take to improve our mental wellbeing. Check out the other pages in this series:

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