Pay It Forward: The Mental Health Benefits of Giving Back

There is no doubt that giving is a good thing to do. Just think about the feeling you get when you pay it forward. And while we’re mostly thinking about how other people will benefit from our generosity, many studies show that it is beneficial for all involved—both mentally and physically.

If you have ever taken part in a charitable event, given money to someone in need, or just helped someone in any way you could, you know how good it feels. The feeling you get from that moment when you notice how someone’s face lit up because of you is something special. Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at New York’s Stony Brook University, termed this “the giver’s glow”.

There are many reasons you should be giving back, so let’s dive in and see how giving back can affect you.

Pay It Forward to Boost Dopamine

When you participate in events created to help someone else, you feel happy. It’s scientifically proven that people who give back are happier. Helping others gives you an instant feeling of happiness, and acknowledging that someone’s life just got better because of you increases your “happy hormones.”

delivery of donations for the manufacture of meals for homeless people on the streets of Recife during the covid-19 / coronavirus epidemic
When Others See How Happy You Feel After Helping Someone, They Become More Prone To Doing The Same Thing (Image Source: Shutterstock)

There is a feeling of positivity and setting an example for other people when you pay it forward. When others see how happy you feel after helping someone, they become more prone to doing the same thing to be able to feel the same feeling of happiness. As laughter is contagious, so is giving. 

By giving to an individual, you provide to your community, as well. In fact, you become an inspiration to your community to be kind toward other people, and the circle of kindness grows.

The feel-good trifecta starts to act as you give—dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin, the hormones that take care of your mood and feelings.

Giving Back Gives You Meaning

“Loving rather than being loved,” a saying by Aristotle, couldn’t be more true for finding a purpose in life. It might be the right answer to the question of how to be happy. If you focus on the good things you unselfishly do for someone else, you will likely become happier and more satisfied with your life.

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A sense of happiness and a sense of meaning and purpose in life are two main pillars of well-being. And while you can say that happiness and meaning belong under the same umbrella, finding a purpose in life is where things get harder.

That’s where giving back comes into play. When you pay it forward, you develop a connection and build relationships with other people, which is vital for mental health and the feeling of belonging.

When you are surrounded by people you love, your soul feels relaxed, connected, and lifted. You feel the surge of positivity and know that you are not alone and that you belong.

In her book “The How of Happiness,” writer Sonja Lyubomirsky says “Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably,” and that “fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.”

Giving Back Teaches Gratitude

There are many ways for people to express gratitude. The easiest one is saying thank you often. 

Dad embracing little child daughter holding greeting card with red heart bonding on fathers day concept.
Expressing Gratitude To A Close Friend, A Partner, Or A Family Member Can Strengthen Relationships (Image Source: Shutterstock)

New research suggests that the link between gratitude and altruism is strong. A grateful brain is a happy one! “As with all commandments, gratitude is a description of a successful mode of living. The thankful heart opens our eyes to a multitude of blessings that continually surround us.” – James E. Faust

Often, you may think of gratitude as a selfish act of being grateful for yourself and everything that you have. And that thinking is not wrong. Usually, you hear people having gratitude journals and using everyday affirmations to recognize abundance and chase fears away. 

Nathaniel Lambert at Florida State University led a study that showed how expressing gratitude to a close friend, a partner, or a family member can strengthen relationships.By cultivating gratitude in your everyday life, you are more likely to feel constant personal happiness.

Giving Back is Good for Your Health

How, you ask? Easy!

Studies show that giving is associated with lower blood pressure, higher self-esteem, less depression, and lower stress levels.

Senior sportsman giving highfive to trainer in sport center.
Giving Back Reduces Levels Of Stress Which Directly Impact Longevity (Image Source: Shutterstock)

Stress is one of the main reasons why people live shorter lives today. By giving, you reduce levels of stress, which directly impacts longevity.

A study led by Rachel Piferi of Johns Hopkins University and Kathleen Lawler of the University of Tennessee proved that people who socially supported others had lower blood pressure. 

Paying It Forward Can Increase Your Life Span

It is proven that helping others can increase your life span by making you feel useful and purposeful.

In his book Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Professor Stephen Post states that giving back can help people with chronic illnesses, including multiple sclerosis and HIV.

Doug Oman of the University of California, Berkeley conducted an interesting study about volunteering in 1999. He concluded that up to 44% of older people are less likely to die in the course of five years if they volunteered in two or more organizations/ This is compared to people who didn’t volunteer, and the results were consistent despite whether participants implemented healthy habits like engaging in light daily exercise and avoiding alcohol and cigarettes.