The experiment involved 77 participants with ages ranging from 18 to 44 and no history of mental disease, substance abuse or cognitive impairment.
Volunteers were asked to fill out a questionnaire every day with things, people or events that stressed them out throughout the day along with things they did for others during that day. Good deeds didn’t have to be impressive – just holding the door for somebody or helping them with their grocery bags was enough to improve spirits.
Participants’ emotional levels were assessed on a standardized scale, while their mental health was measured on a scale of 0 to 100 on the basis of self-reports. The experiment revealed that participants that reported helping others more often had higher levels of emotional well-being, were more optimistic, and their mental health was better than that of participants who were not as helpful.
Emily Ansell, lead author of the study and researcher at the Yale University School of Medicine, explained that when people help each other they in fact help themselves. And the study confirms that.
Ansell noted that participants who took their time to be nice to other people on stressful days were less likely to be impacted by negative emotions stirred by stress on those days. So, they were more resilient to stress and coped better with stressful situations. Their mental health was also less likely to be affected by daily stress.
Researchers underscored that holiday season is one of the most stressful times of the year. So, they recommend anyone to be more mindful towards their peers such as holding doors open for them, asking them if they need any help, or help them with their work.
“It may end up helping you feel just a little bit better,”
As a follow-up , the team plans to further study the effects of being more altruistic on people’s mental health and ability to cope with negative emotions.
The study was published in the journal Clinical Psychological Science.
Past studies also found a link between being less self-centered or egocentric and improved emotional well-being. For instance, transplant recipients who provided other transplant patients with emotional and/or material support reported that their mental state dramatically improved while experiencing unprecedented personal growth.
Moreover, patients affected by the debilitating multiple sclerosis, but who supported other patients said that they were less likely to be depressed or have a low self-esteem, and that they felt their confidence improved along with their energy levels.
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