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Want to feel happier? Serve others

Although giving one’s time, money or possessions might not always seem appealing, research shows that those who regularly perform service have increased personal happiness, satisfaction, sociality and meaning in life.

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Youth from across the country pick up tools for a weed-pulling service project along the Jordan River in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 21, 2019. The service project is an extension of Gospel Grace Church’s Plant Camp.

Youth from across the country pick up tools for a weed-pulling service project along the Jordan River in Salt Lake City on Friday, June 21, 2019. The service project is an extension of Gospel Grace Church’s Plant Camp.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

During the holiday season, we are urged to “give back,” “pay it forward” or any other term for serving others. Although giving one’s time, money or possessions might not always seem appealing, research shows that those who regularly perform service have increased personal happiness, satisfaction, sociality and meaning in life. 

Dr. Barbara R. Edwards, Princeton doctor of internal medicine at Penn Medicine Princeton Health, explained the correlation between volunteering and “healthy living” in a recent blog post.

According to Edwards, volunteering can lead to:

  • An increased purpose in life and sense of responsibility.
  • Greater self-esteem.
  • Decreased loneliness.
  • Feelings of accomplishment.
  • Increased sense of gratitude.
  • Staying active and improving mental and physical heath.

How it happens:

  • Edwards said the desire to feel needed is inherent in human nature. “When someone feels needed by others and the feeling is reciprocated, they tend to be happier,” Edwards said.
  • “Knowing that you’re doing your part in helping others makes you feel good about yourself,” Edwards said of increased self-esteem that comes from serving, “and that’s something no one can take away from you.”
  • “Surrounding yourself with people you can empathize with also decreases loneliness,” Edwards said. She cited an AARP study that indicated that millions of adults 45 and older suffer from chronic loneliness.
  • Rewarding feelings and a sense of accomplishment can create what the Los Angeles Times called a “helper’s high,” caused by increased levels of dopamine and the release of endorphins.
  • Understanding those in need helps increase a sense of gratitude since it puts your life in perspective.
  • “Volunteering allows you to stay active,” Edwards continued. “The gratitude that derives from helping others can also lower your blood pressure, improve your immune system, and decrease stress levels.”

Prosocial behavior and meaning through service: The Greater Good Magazine by University of California, Berkeley pins feelings of happiness to the sense of meaning found in helping others rather than “gathering up achievements” and “spending so much time at work that we’re cut off from other people.”

  • The magazine claimed that “prosocial” behavior like engaging in altruistic acts and expressing gratitude are ways people have found meaning and satisfaction in relationships.
  • The magazine further cited a study by Roy Baumeister at Florida State University, which stated that identifying as a “giver” in a relationship commonly correlates to meaning in life.
  • The study also found that while meaning can vary between people, high-quality relationships are important to everyone across the board.