Altruism: why helping others can bring such positive benefits
It has been so nice to have been able to enjoy another bank holiday weekend without having to struggle in any way with my mental health.
I don’t have to continually question whether my brain will fail me anymore, which is quite a miracle when you consider the fact that I couldn’t get out of bed or leave the house without a monumental mental battle for most of the last twenty years!
It was also such a long-awaited treat to finally be able to catch up with friends for an outdoor meal at the pub on Sunday. I found that with my confidence now fully restored, I could easily converse and chat away without having to pretend to be ok or force the conversation in any way. Thank God for that!
I walked back from the pub through the woods and there is now a beautiful carpet of bluebells on top of Oakley Hill which I was also able to appreciate and enjoy. I am now able to help my mental health by engaging with simple things like walking and nature, which I’ve noticed a heightened interest in after being absent from my own life for so long.
The rest of the weekend was spent clearing more junk from the hoarder’s house (many trips to tip again), ripping out a bathroom, clearing hoarder’s garden, chain-sawing a hedge down and getting rid of it, watching some of the tennis from Madrid, reading, and doing a bit of French.
Although I’ve been busy and enjoying the freedom that comes with being liberated from depression and bipolar disorder, I haven’t once stopped thinking of those who are currently experiencing problems with their mental health. This has been especially present in my mind since the talk that I did last week for the students at Berkshire College of Agriculture.
I ended up doing the speech in the indoor school as the weather was threatening, but it went well, and the staff and students seemed to really enjoy it. There were quite a few questions afterwards, and I really enjoyed discussing some individual issues and concerns. I left with such a feeling of satisfaction at helping others and have been thinking about the effect that it’s had on me ever since.
I have long known that helping others was the most important thing that you can ever do in life, but the problem was that I was just far too ill to ever do it. However, the last few months have shown me that although I lost so much bipolar disorder and endured so much suffering, being ok with life and helping others is more satisfying than anything else I've ever done - even before the onset of my illness.
It’s all to do with altruism and intrinsic motivation for me because I’m not looking for external rewards or gains, I’m doing it because it makes me feel good about myself and I genuinely enjoy it.
This was all confirmed to me recently through a quote I read by a writer called Gavin Bird. He said:
“Helping others, without expecting anything in return is what true self-worth is all about.”
Wanting to research altruism a bit further, I had a look last night for articles about the benefits of helping others and found several interesting discussion points and ideas. One article I found noted 7 benefits of helping others, some of which I have listed here. It said that:
HELPING OTHERS GIVES US A SENSE OF PURPOSE AND SATISFACTION
Studies have shown that volunteering to help others can boost an individual’s overall sense of purpose and identity, particularly if they no longer hold a life-defining role such as “worker” or “parent.”
HELPING OTHERS CAN HELP YOU LIVE LONGER
Research has shown that helping others can improve health in ways that can lengthen your lifespan. A study of volunteers showed an improved ability to manage stress and stave off disease as well as reduced rates of depression and an increased sense of life satisfaction. This might be because volunteering alleviates loneliness and enhances our social lives - factors that can significantly affect our long-term health.
ALTRUISM IS CONTAGIOUS
When one person performs a good deed, it causes a chain reaction of other altruistic acts. One study found that people are more likely to perform feats of generosity after observing another do the same. This effect can ripple throughout the community, inspiring dozens of individuals to make a difference.
HELPING OTHERS MAKES US HAPPY
One team of sociologists tracked 2000 people over a five-year period and found that people who described themselves as ‘very happy’ volunteered at least 5.8 hours per month. Researchers also think that giving back might give individuals a mental boost by providing them with a neurochemical sense of reward.
There are other studies that have demonstrated these physical benefits in the brain too. The ‘Helper’s High’ is thought to be experienced when endorphins are released into the bloodstream while engaging in the act of helping others, and further research shows that helping others can reduce stress, chronic pain and even lower blood pressure!
Reading all of this reinforces what I already know and just makes me even more determined to keep going in my quest to help others! I’m also noticing a cathartic benefit through this process, and it’s gratifying to know that something good is finally coming out of something so prolonged, painful, difficult and distressing!
If you would like to know more about the benefits of helping others, then you can find more information in an article on the Mental Floss site which I have added here.
Thanks for reading,
Speak to you soon,