Helping Others Can Increase Happiness and Reduce Stress

Adult granddaughter assisting her grandmother sitting in wheelchair

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According to an annual survey from the American Psychological Association, stress is an all-too-common experience. What's more, many people feel stressed beyond their coping abilities.

Between work, money issues, family stress, and other obligations, it can be easy to feel overworked, frustrated, and burned out.

You may already be practicing stress-relieving techniques like yoga or meditation, but there's another way to relieve stress you may not have tried: lending a helping hand to someone in need.

At first, you might worry that giving other people your time and attention will only make your schedule busier, but research has shown that helping others benefits your mental and physical health.

Here's an overview of what science says about stress and altruism, as well as some ideas of good deeds that do good for others and make you feel good, too.

Attending to someone else's needs has been linked to decreased stress levels.

Impact of Stress on Health

A 2015 study published in the Clinical Psychological Science journal found that helping others can relieve stress. While it was a small study, the results were eye-opening.

77 adults between the ages of 18 and 44 participated in the study. Each night, they received an automated call reminding them to complete a daily questionnaire.

The questionnaire asked participants about stressful events in their day, such as their commute, responsibilities at home and work, and finances.

Participants were also asked to keep track of their helpful behaviors, any small acts of kindness they did, and the emotions associated with these behaviors.

The researchers found that participants who performed more daily acts of kindness were less likely to feel stressed. On days when they could not complete any acts of kindness, participants reported more stress and negativity.

The study suggests that we can help ourselves manage stress and feel better by doing good deeds for other people.

While further study is needed to analyze the theory, it has promising implications for people experiencing high levels of stress.

Small Acts of Kindness

You don't need to be wealthy or have tons of free time to give (and receive) the benefits of altruism. Even a small gesture like holding the door for a stranger has the potential to reduce stress.

Here are a few simple deeds you can do to help others and possibly even lower your stress levels and improve your overall wellbeing.

Pay It Forward

When you're at the drive-thru window, you can pay for the car behind you. It only requires a small amount of money, and when the person gets to the window to receive their order, it will be a pleasant surprise to find out that it's been paid for.

Share What You Can Spare

Sometimes, sparing an afternoon to bake up some treats for your coworkers is all it takes to make someone's day.

If cooking or baking isn't your thing (or you're not allowed to bring outside food to your office or the break room), you can still find another way to share your talents, skills, passions, or even possessions.

Sharing whatever you can spare is a simple, but generous, way to help others.

Just thinking of others shows you care. For example, if you and a group of friends are going to a concert, pack an extra pair of earplugs. During cold and flu season, always have some extra tissues on hand.

When you're traveling, bring along an extra power cord or charger to lend someone who is in a pinch at the airport terminal.

Donate Goods

Take the time to declutter your closet or basement and donate any clothes, toys, and books. There are likely many places and organizations in your community that are in need of these items.

Organizations can usually give you a specific list of items they need (and the ones they can't take), which you can keep handy for spring cleaning.

Get in touch with your local shelters, churches and religious organizations, youth centers, group homes, prisons, and businesses like Goodwill.

If you call ahead, some places can even have someone come pick up items or have someone meet you to help unload your donations.

By donating goods you no longer want, you're not only helping people who are in need but are reminded to be grateful for what you have.

Volunteer

Whether you are a photographer, web designer, or cook, taking your skills (and your time) out into the community can be a great way to help out.

Local non-profits are always in need of help, and there are usually many ways for you to get involved. Whether you're giving your time, skills, or money, these places rely on the support and generosity of the communities they serve.

There are opportunities to work directly with those in need by volunteering at a local shelter, animal rescue, or soup kitchen. Depending on your skills, you might be able to help organizations or groups with bookkeeping, scheduling, or website design.

If donating your time is more than you can commit, you can always donate money to charities through fundraising efforts, giving in the memory of a loved one, or even giving your spare change to a charity at the grocery store.

Give Love

The best things in life are free, and this applies to smiles, hugs, and other gestures that show you care.

You don't have to commit your time or money to do something kind for someone else. Even a simple squeeze on the shoulder can be reassuring and let someone know that you're supporting them and that you care.

You don't need to make a grand gesture to make a difference in someone's life. The small acts of kindness you do won't just make a difference in the lives of others but can have a positive (even life-changing) impact on your own.

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Article Sources
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  • Ansell, E. "Helping Others Dampens the Effects of Everyday Stress". Clinical Psychological Science, 2015.
  • Schwartz C, Meisenhelder JB, Ma Y, Reed G. Altruistic Social Interest Behaviors are Associated with Better Mental Health. Psychosomatic Medicine. September/October 2003.