Giving gives back

You “get what you give” they say but in fact this is underestimating what comes back to you when you help someone else. Altruism is a remarkable act but it is not unique to humans. There are plenty of documented cases of altruism in the animal world but mostly they are linked to benefitting “family”, or those who share your genetic material, and in those cases it is clear why altruism may exist; to protect your own gene pool. It is less easy to explain altruistic behaviour that benefits strangers although you could argue that contributing to an altruistic society benefits the individual. What a new study has done though is provide another clear reason why altruism exists because it makes the person who gives live longer.

The study involved analysing data gathered on more than 800 people aged an average 71 years at the start of the study. The subjects were given questionnaires to establish if they had provided “tangible” assistance to family, friends, and neighbours in the last year. This tangible assistance was classed as including acts like giving people lifts in their car, running errands, doing their shopping, looking after children, and so on.

In the course of the five years of the study around 16 per cent of the participants died. The researchers found that the people who were the most giving also were significantly less likely to have died in that five year period. Additionally, those who were “givers” tended to experience less stress and less stressful events.

The imputation is that giving people are less stressed people and that leads to a longer life. Of course, you can throw into that the possibility that people who give may have different spiritual qualities and attitudes that help them live longer. The exact nature of the links between giving and longevity remain to be understood but they certainly seem to exist. So think about giving a little more to those around you; this should not be why you do it but you know what, you actually get a lot more than you give.

Terry Robson

Terry Robson

Terry Robson is the Editor-in-Chief of WellBeing and the Editor of EatWell.

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