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Six Ways to Boost Your “Habits of Helping"

15 Mar 2011 | Greater Good Science Centre

Want to live a longer, healthier life? Stephen G. Post explains how to reap the benefits of practicing altruism.

In 2008, I lost my job of 20 years and uprooted my family to pursue a new position. The move strained my marriage, my relationship with my son, my sense of well-being. Like many Americans in their 50s who thought they were more or less past any financial worries, I found myself anxious for the first time in years. 

I know my story is not unusual. These are hard times. Much of our nation, and our planet, is confronted with environmental and economic upheaval. It can be difficult to believe that things are going to get any better anytime soon.

Yet one thing I've learned from my own experiences of loss and hardship is that, when all else fails, we can still give to others. And doing so will always be our salvation, our reconnection to the world.

Research backs this up. Whether we are looking at studies of older adults, middle-aged women, or preteens, we see that altruistic behavior casts a halo effect over people's lives, giving them greater longevity, lower rates of heart disease, and better mental health. We prosper-physically, mentally, emotionally-under the canopy of positive emotions that arise through the simple act of giving.

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