Relationships & Love

Helping Others will Help You

Helping people, whether friends, family or strangers, can help lessen stress in our lives, according to new research published in Clinical Psychological Science, a journal of the Association for Psychological Science.

“Our research shows that when we help others we can also help ourselves,” explains study author Emily Ansell of the Yale University School of Medicine. “Stressful days usually lead us to have a worse mood and poorer mental health, but our findings suggest that if we do small things for others, such as holding a door open for someone, we won’t feel as poorly on stressful days.”

We often turn to others for social support when we’re feeling stressed, but these new results suggest that proactively doing things for others may be another effective strategy for coping with everyday worries and strains.

Laboratory-based experiments have shown that providing support can help individuals cope with stress, increasing their experiences of positive emotion. To investigate whether this holds true in the context of everyday functioning in the real world, Ansell and co-authors Elizabeth B. Raposa (UCLA and Yale University School of Medicine) and Holly B. Laws (Yale University School of Medicine) conducted a study in which people used their smartphones to report on their feelings and experiences in daily life.

A total of 77 adults, ranging from 18 to 44 years old, participated in the 14-day study; people with substance dependences, diagnosed mental illness, or cognitive impairment were not included for participation.

The participants received an automated phone reminder every night that prompted them to complete their daily assessment. They were asked to report any stressful life events they experienced that day across several domains (e.g., interpersonal, work/education, home, finance, health/accident) and the total number of events comprised the measure of daily stress. They were also asked to report whether they had engaged in various helpful behaviors (e.g., held open a door, helped with schoolwork, asked someone if they needed help) that day.

The participants also completed a 10-item short-form of the Positive and Negative Affect Scale, a well-validated measure of experienced emotion, and they were asked to rate their mental health for that day using a slider on a scale that ranged from 0 (poor) to 100 (excellent).

The results indicated that helping others boosted participants’ daily well-being. A greater number of helping behaviors was associated with higher levels of daily positive emotion and better overall mental health.


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