Scientists have finally confirmed what philanthropists have always known: It is indeed better to give than receive.
A new five-year study by researchers at three U.S. universities found that providing tangible assistance to others protects health and can actually lengthen our lives.
"This study offers a significant contribution to the research literature on the relationship between social environment and health, and specifically to our understanding of how giving assistance to others may offer health benefits to the giver by buffering the negative effects of stress," said lead researcher Michael J. Poulin, an assistant professor of psychology at the University at Buffalo.
Poulin and colleagues at Stony Brook University and Grand Valley State University, surveyed 846 adults from Detroit on the stressful events they had experienced in the previous year and whether they had provided tangible assistance to friends or family members over that time.
Stressful experiences included such things as a serious, non-life-threating illness, burglary, job loss, financial difficulties, or death of a family member. “Tangible assistance” was defined as helping friends, neighbors, or relatives by providing transportation, doing errands, shopping, performing housework, providing child care, and other tasks.
According to the results, to be published in the American Journal of Public Health, Poulin’s team found a significant correlation between those study participants who reported more acts of “tangible assistance” and overall health and longevity.
In other words, Poulin said: "Our conclusion is that helping others reduced mortality specifically by buffering the association between stress and mortality.”
The researchers noted past studies have found social isolation and stress are significant predictors of mortality and illness, but little prior research has tied giving social support to health and wellness.
"These findings go beyond past analyses to indicate that the health benefits of helping behavior derive specifically from stress-buffering processes," Poulin said, "and provide important guidance for understanding why helping behavior specifically may promote health and, potentially, for how social processes in general may influence health."
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