Being generous and compassionate may boost well-being and could help young people find purpose in life: Study
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, having a high sense of well-being may lead to a decreased risk of disease, illness, injury, and an increased lifespan
Small acts of kindness may go a long way in promoting your physical and mental well-being, a new study suggests. What is more, randomly helping someone in need is more likely to be rewarding than merely volunteering.
Well-being comes with its set of perks: it is thought to bring benefits to health, job, family, and economic status. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), having a high sense of life satisfaction may lead to a decreased risk of disease, illness, injury, and an increased lifespan.
Previous studies have looked at whether well-being is linked with prosocial behavior like altruism or selflessness, cooperation, trust, and compassion. But the results have been inconclusive. "I found several studies showing an okay or strong relationship. But, on the other hand, I found some studies reporting a weak or negative relationship," lead author Dr Bryant PH Hui, a research assistant professor at the University of Hong Kong, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).
These mixed results are what inspired Dr Hui and his colleagues to find answers to their questions. So they analyzed data from previous studies to determine whether prosocial behavior had a strong, moderate, or weak link with well-being. Further, they also set out to study if the positive effects varied with different types of well-being and prosocial behavior, age, gender, retirement, and the like.
Hui and his colleagues performed a meta-analysis of 201 previous studies, which covered 198,213 participants. They detected a modest link between prosocial behavior and well-being. "Ultimately, this outcome can provide ammunition to those who are skeptical of the impact of prosociality on the well-being of the giver and those who champion the link as the bedrock of human nature," the authors wrote in their study.
Still, Dr Hui added, the relationship between kindness and a better state of being was significant. A modest link can have a meaningful impact on a societal level. "More than a quarter of Americans aged over 16 volunteers, and across 23 European countries, the percentage of the population who volunteer ranges from 7 to 67," he explained. "If people know actually it can improve their own well-being, it will motivate them to act prosocially, which in turn benefit more people or improve more people’s well-being. It’s a win-win situation."
The team found kindness is connected with eudaimonic well-being. It means that generous individuals are more likely to realize their purpose in life or potential. This is different from the hedonic view, which focuses on how one feels about his or her life, explained Dr Hui. As for differences with age, Dr Hui and his colleagues observed that young generous individuals reported overall well-being, including the eudaimonic aspect and more psychological functioning, while the elderly said they experienced better physical health. Additionally, they also found that women were more likely to experience these benefits than men. It could be due to societal conditioning.
In the future, the team hopes that researchers will evaluate if the relationship between generosity varies with ethnicity and social class. Dr Hui said studies could also determine if there are limits to prosocial behavior and if too much kindness can cost the giver.
The study is published in the journal Psychological Bulletin.