On the first of November 2013, a mysterious donation of $50 to the drinks stall in the Nanyang Junior College canteen provided thirty-something drinks accompanied by 32 handwritten notes to teachers and other students. That lead to teachers returning the gesture. And that lead to students thanking them in postits.
Apart from the fact that it’s a good thing to do or the right thing to do, there’s actually a wealth of research findings that tell us that promoting someone else’s welfare has much benefit to us in terms of our mental wellbeing and adds positively to our physical health.
This view, proposed on a PBS website, a “Doing Good” report by the UK Mental Health Foundation, and a New York Times article (“Is pure altruism possible?“, 19 Oct 2010), is supported by studies which link altruism behaviours to better mental health (Schwartz et al., 2003) and life satisfaction (Massey et al., 2010 – a study on kidney donation). Other recent research goes further to indicate that beliefs, feelings, and behaviours towards helping, rather than being willing to forgive others and oneself, is associated with better mental wellbeing scores even in adolescents (Pareek & Jain, 2012). Rather than assume that the findings indicate that we engage in altruism behaviours for reasons of self-interest (read this Berkeley e-newsletter), there’s empirical evidence to suggest that positive psychological outcomes arise from our helping behaviours. There’s a reason why helping our older folks with their gardening aspirations feels so good (“Greening for a cause“, Today, 18 Nov 2013).
With the current Red Cross, International Rescue Committee, MSF, and World Food Programme donation appeals, there are plenty of opportunities to put to practice what we learn. Time to get on the bandwagon!