What does the phrase ‘random acts of kindness’ mean? It means different things to different people. For some individuals it might mean paying for coffee for the person in line behind them. For others it might mean volunteering their time at a hospital. Whatever an individual chooses to do, there are proven health benefits to doing good.
The Health Benefits of Altruistic Behavior
Researchers have studied the so-called ‘helper’s high’ and how it affects the human body. They want to understand exactly how altruism affects an individual’s health and even their longevity. Plus, altruistic behavior may trigger the brain’s reward circuitry, that is, releasing natural chemicals like dopamine and endorphins. This in turn has the potential to reduce stress. If the altruistic behavior continues to be rewarding then it will be reinforced. Gain for oneself is not uppermost in the mind of an altruist.
The ‘helper’s high’ was first described by Allan Luks, who surveyed thousands of volunteers across the United States and found that people who reached out to other people consistently stated that their health improved when they started to volunteer. About half reported experiencing a ‘high’ feeling; 43% felt stronger and more energetic; 28% experienced a sensation of inner warmth; 22% felt calmer and less depressed; 21% experienced greater feelings of self-worth, and 13% experienced fewer aches and pains.
What Are Some Ways to Feel the Helper’s High?
Social support may sound like something we receive, but some studies suggest that the biggest health benefit may come from providing support to others, rather than receiving it. For individuals in recovery, being of service in some way forms an important aspect of recreating their lives, taking them away from being self absorbed and destructive. Places to volunteer and feel the “high” of being of service include:
- Doing tasks for 12-step meetings
- Hospitals and nursing homes
- Homeless shelters, food pantries and soup kitchens
- Animal shelters
- Retired Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP)
- Literacy programs
- Habitat for Humanity
- Places of worship
Volunteering has many benefits including:
- Getting out of the house and preventing isolation
- Establishing a new purpose
- Focusing on a recovery oriented lifestyle
- Meeting new people and establishing sober friendships
- Learning new skills
- Elevating mood and enhancing self-esteem
- Getting exercise
- Serving the community and making a difference
People who are altruistic have better life adjustment overall and tend to see life as more meaningful. Altruism is associated with better marital relationships, a decreased sense of hopelessness, less depression, increased physical health, and enhanced self-esteem.
However you move through the beginning stages of recovery, don’t do it alone. Contact the Villa to find out how we can support your journey to being healthy and focused on sobriety in recovery.