Extend your life by giving instead of receiving
Published: Thursday, February 21, 2013
Updated: Friday, February 22, 2013 00:02
It truly is better to give than to receive. It’s a proven fact.
A recent study conducted over five years across three universities – Stony Brook University, Grand Valley State University in Michigan and UB – reveals that providing help to others results in a decreased association between stress and mortality.
In other words, the more someone gives to others, the less stressed he or she will be and the longer he or she will live.
Stressful life events such as a death in the family or a financial hardship can predict an increased risk for mortality, according to Dr. Michael Poulin, assistant professor of psychology at UB and principal investigator in the study.
However, Poulin found the mortality effect was absent for those who helped others.
“In our data we found that, among people who didn’t help others in the past year, each stressful event they experienced that year predicted a 30 percent increase in their odds of dying over the next five years,” Poulin said. “By contrast, there was no such increase among people who did help others.”
According to the UB Reporter, 846 participants completed baseline interviews that evaluated stressful events in the past year and whether they provided assistance to their family and friends.
Some examples of reported stressful events included burglary, non-life-threatening illness, job loss, financial difficulties and death of a family member, according to the study. The assistance people gave to others consisted of providing transportation, doing errands, shopping and housework and childcare for friends or family members.
The results of this study came after researchers tried to establish how being the one receiving help is good for physical and mental health.
The research Poulin and his colleagues conducted was inspired by the idea of biological mechanisms that cause parents to care for their children. The research went on to study how this concern can reduce physical responses to stress.
The original thought was that focusing on another person’s wellbeing, or acting in “a care-giving frame of mind,” would have stress-reducing effects. Specifically, it would reduce the harmful effects of stressful experiences on a person’s health.
According to the abstract of Poulin’s study entitled “Giving to Others and the Association Between Stress and Mortality,” stress didn’t predict mortality risk among those who provided assistance to others in the past year. It did predict mortality among those who didn’t provide help to others, however.
The American Journal of Public Healthpublished Poulin’s study this past January.
“The association between stress and depression or anxiety is much weaker among people who volunteer than among people who don’t volunteer,” Poulin said.
Poulin credits one of his co-authors on the study, Stephanie Brown, associate professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook, with giving him the opportunity to take the lead. Brown was one of the first researchers to suggest that helping others, not being helped, promotes health and wellbeing, according to Poulin.
Poulin’s other co-authors include Dylan Smith, associate professor of preventative medicine at Stony Brook, and Amanda Dillard, assistant professor of psychology at Grand Valley State University in Allendale, Mich.
Poulin notes that taking the spotlight off of oneself and paying attention and responding to the needs of others may reduce some of the burdens of stress in everyday life.
Poulin hopes to incorporate the findings of this study into his everyday life.
“I try to remind myself to look for the ways, even if not obvious, that others may have needs I can address,” Poulin said.