How Helping Others Helps You Too

The U.S. Celebrates National Volunteer Month

How Helping Others Helps You TooA strong body of research shows that giving to others activates regions in the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust that can foster a “helper’s high.” Even among folks who are sick or elderly, volunteering and giving to others has been linked to better health.

In addition to serving as a stress reducer, helping others creates greater social connection that can also lead to more positive relationships and a ripple effect of generosity among other people. The trick to tapping into these great benefits is to find ways to give back that resonate most with you and then practice them often.

Encourage cooperation and connection

What business or workplace team couldn’t benefit from everyone pulling in the same direction a little more often? While helping others is likely to make you feel good, it also builds a sense of trust and strengthens ties in a way that tends to increase the willingness of others to cooperate as well. You drive this back-and-forth that helps you feel closer to those you’re helping while also helping them feel closer to you.

“Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably and fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community,” according to Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology at the University of California, Riverside and author of The How of Happiness.

Watch it spread

The other great thing about giving to and helping others is that those feelings of gratitude and cooperation can be contagious and ripple out beyond those directly involved. Researchers from the University of California, San Diego and Harvard University found when one person behaves generously, others often follow suit. They saw altruism replicate itself from one person to another, then to another and then to another still. The result can be hundreds of people benefitting from a single act of generosity started by someone they don’t even know.

Feel the glow

If the desire to increase cooperation or build generosity aren’t motivation enough, consider the “selfish” benefits to giving and giving back. Extensive research shows that giving to others can release endorphins that create that “helpers high” or a “warm glow” effect.

In another study at Harvard Business School, researchers found that participants actually experienced a greater sense of happiness by giving money to someone else rather than spending it on themselves.

Giving can also result in feeling good physically. Giving to and helping others is linked to decreased feelings of stress, lower blood pressure and even a reduced risk of death among older people.

Find your give

Giving to others can help them, help you and help your workplace. Knowing this, your next step is figuring out where and how to give. And that really depends on your priorities and skills. What needs are you drawn to? What skills and resources might you apply for greatest impact?

At Monica Motivates, we have chosen to apply our deep expertise in helping underrepresented people found and build their own businesses; we’re helping people who might never encounter services such as ours. In our fourth year in business, we launched our non-profit endeavor, Pivot Purposefully, to help formerly incarcerated women become successful business owners.

While all women, and especially women of color, face significant barriers to advancement, for formerly incarcerated women, the barriers can feel nearly insurmountable. Most job training programs do not even help participants explore the idea of founding or growing their own business, an especially promising avenue for rebuilding your life. Data from the University of California at Berkeley School of Law found that having a criminal record made it significantly less likely that a woman would receive a positive response from potential employers.

Pivot Purposefully is a holistic, high-impact program with bootcamp-style retreats, current and former executives and founders who serve as subject matter experts, mentors and connection to funding opportunities. Our goal is to help formerly incarcerated women gain financial independence, improve the lives of their families and become valued contributors in their communities.

One of the 23 women who have graduated from Pivot Purposefully so far, Consuela, recently shared that, after 22 years in prison, the program has helped her think about her business holistically and strategically and spurred her to tailor funding and business pitches to specific audiences. She’s already giving back too as the founder of a consulting firm that helps people transition from prison to mainstream society.

The way you give back will be as individual as your goals, desires and skills. While the benefits you reap will also be uniquely yours, you can expect them to include better physical and mental health, increased cooperation and a greater sense of connection among those you serve.