Life

There’s a very scientific reason why helping people feels so good

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Hannah-Rose Yee
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If you love to assist others and exercise your muscles of compassion and empathy, you’re well on you way to being more content. According to a new study, a sense of compassion is one of the major elements of the lives of happy people.

There’s a buzz that accompanies doing good; a feeling of warmth and levity that spreads through you whenever you help someone.

This can be on the smallest scale, like providing a lost tourist with some directions for their destination. Or it can be on a much bigger platform, say, helping a friend move house or supporting a family member through a task they find difficult. Upon completion of your helping hand, even if you feel physically tired or worn out, you might find yourself feeling more emotionally or psychologically fulfilled.

There’s a scientific reason why this feels so good. A 2019 study from the University of Oulu in Finland on the subject of compassion – one of the first major studies on the topic – has found that greater levels of compassion will lead to greater wellbeing, more happiness, a positive mood and social connections and, overall, an increased satisfaction in life.

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The study makes the important distinction between compassion and empathy when it comes to happiness. Compassion, as author Aino Saarinen describes it, is “concern for other’s suffering and a desire to alleviate it”, while empathy is merely the sharing of such suffering.

The key here is that compassion is solutions-focused, while empathy is merely about understanding. As Saarinen notes in the study, too much empathy can actually be a bad thing in that sense. An empathy surplus an lead to “increased stress levels” as you take on other people’s suffering without – or being unable to – promote solutions for that suffering.

Giving help when someone asks for it is a kind and generous thing 

Compassion, on the other hand, offers a way forward. By practicing as much compassion in your life as you can, you can improve the lives of those around you as well as your own.

This study, which looked at 3,596 participants in six different age groups over the course of 15 years, found that those with high levels of compassion had a higher wellbeing throughout the study. Those who felt a greater degree of compassion for others were more satisfied, more optimistic and more socially supported than those who did not. 

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Helping others is an important way to support those around you. But it will always make you happier, too. 

Images: Getty, Unsplash

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Hannah-Rose Yee

Hannah-Rose Yee is a writer based in London. You can find her on the internet talking about movies, television and Chris Pine.

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