helping hands and heart

Gerd Altmann – Pixabay

St Francis of Assisi once said ‘for it is in the giving that we receive.’ But you don’t need sandals and a lot of pets to find out if that’s true. The evidence is all around.

According to scientific research, helping others doesn’t just feel good, it has measurable health benefits, as long as you don’t find yourself overwhelmed by helping tasks.

If everyone does something, then somebody doesn’t have to do everything!

What’s in it for me?

Studies using Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging (fMRI) have found clear links between generosity and happiness. Interestingly, donating money to charity activates the same regions of the brain as monetary wins and sex. There are also emotional benefits associated with doing good deeds.

Volunteering in the community, for example, boosts happiness, health and a sense of well-being. That means less depression, a longer lifespan, and greater life satisfaction.

Heal yourself, help others

One famous study at Carnegie Mellon University found that adults who volunteer for at least 200 hours per year decrease their risk of high blood pressure (and the resulting cardiovascular disease) by 40%.

Other evidence suggests that giving support to others can actually benefit the giver more than the receiver in a neurobiological sense, with less stress and greater reward-related activity in the brain.

There are also surprising benefits for chronic pain management, especially for those who help others struggling with the same conditions.

According to one study reported in Pain Management Nursing, average daily pain reporting dropped from 6 to below 4 (on a scale of 10) after sufferers had volunteer training and then weekly experiences helping others. MS studies have had similar findings.

helping hands

Helping hands – Anemone 123/Pixabay

How to help

Wherever you live, there’s something you can do to help others. But where to start?

Australia runs on volunteers, and famous organisations like the NSW Rural Fire Service, CWA and Surf Life Saving Australia wouldn’t be able to function without them. The volunteer base of many organisations is ageing though, and they are in need of new members.  Don’t leave all the associated health benefits to the old-timers!

If you’re not the organisation type, and don’t have much time, but have a mobile phone, you can get the free Be My Eyes app, and literally be the eyes of a blind person in need for some small task, using the camera on their phone.

Bringing it all back home

On the Northern Rivers of NSW there are a myriad of opportunities to help others and enjoy the health benefits of altruism.

Here are just a few examples: Friends of the Koala, Lifeline North Coast, Northern Rivers Animal Services, the Winsome and Lismore Soup Kitchen, the Five Loaves Mobile Soup Kitchen and the Mullumbimby and District Neighbourhood Centre.

There are even Facebook groups for sharing and giving away useful unwanted things. The list of ways to help is endless.

Take your pick, and help yourself!


David Lowe