Are we born to be Santa's helpers?
Some biologists have concluded that babies are innately sociable and helpful to others. The helping behavior seems to be innate because it appears so early and before many parents start teaching children the rules of polite behavior. Some scientists have found that helping is not enhanced by rewards, suggesting that it is not influenced by training. It seems to occur across cultures that have different timetables for teaching social rules. Of course every animal must to some extent be selfish to survive, but the biologists also see in humans a natural willingness to help. So what is the point of this? Why are we made this way? Because to survive in a society, a sense of a group or “we” must exist. Sociality, the binding together of members of a group, is the first requirement of defense, since without it people will not put the group’s interests ahead of their own. This altruism is so embedded in our biology that research has found helping others can improve your own health.
In a 2002 Boston College study, researchers found that patients with chronic pain fared better when they counseled other pain patients, experiencing less depression, intense pain and disability.
A study by the Buck Institute for Age Research in Novato, Calif., also found a strong benefit to volunteerism, and after controlling for a number of variables, showed that elderly people who volunteered for more than four hours a week were 44 percent less likely to die during the study period.
A Miami study of patients with H.I.V. found that those with strong altruistic characteristics had lower levels of stress hormones.
A 1988 Psychology Today article dubbed the effect the “helper’s high.” Analyzing two separate surveys of a total of 3,200 women who regularly volunteered, the article described a physical response from volunteering, similar to the results of vigorous exercise or meditation. The strongest effect was seen when the act of altruism involved direct contact with other people.
To rid yourself of negative emotional states, you need to push them aside with positive emotional states. And the simplest way to do that is to just go out and lend a helping hand to somebody. Tis the Season!
The following resources can help you be a better helper:
- Be Involved A recent Community Matters article from the Library about how to get involved in Springfield.
- Volunteer at your local library.
- Serve.gov An online resource for not only finding volunteer opportunities in your community, but also creating your own.
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