Ask Dr. J – Helping Yourself by Helping Others

Ah, November.

Fall is everywhere around us—the leaves, the air, the harvest feasts. And, toward the end of the month, that time when we gather together with our friends and family and give thanks that we have exactly one month to pull our collective holiday shit together as we begin our mad dash into the New Year.

The unfortunate part of Thanksgiving is that we often forget to actually give thanks, so I thought this month I would take a moment to remind us all that giving thanks can and should extend throughout the year—and might even benefit our health along the way.

Let me explain.

One of the best ways that we can give thanks is through altruism, or just doing good deeds for the sake of doing them. For example, sometimes, even when I’m in a huge rush at the grocery store, when I see that mom with a baby, a heaping cart full of diapers, formula, food and that look in her eyes—you know the one that says, “Jesus, I need out of here!”—I insist she cuts in front of me. I’m sure that most anyone would do the same.

Well, it turns out that those simple things that we do have a huge impact on our mental health.

In fact, a recent article in Psychosomatic Medicine found that not only is helping others associated with higher levels of mental health, but that these benefits outweigh any benefits of receiving help as well as other known psychospiritual, stress and demographic factors.

When comparing altruism to prayer, concerted stress-reduction strategies, income, age, gender, physical health and actually being on the receiving end of an altruistic gesture, altruism is quite possibly the best thing for mental health since SSRI’s.

But the benefits don’t end there. In a follow up study, researchers found that all-cause mortality—meaning death for any reason whatsoever—is 28 percent lower in conscientious and altruistic individuals.

There are veritable hundreds upon hundreds of articles that have been published looking at this from just about every angle, and the common finding is very simple: The more we give, the happier and healthier we are.

So, remember during this season of thanks to be helpful, kind, nice and giving—the personal payoffs are huge.

And, as always, until next time, Be Well.

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When Dr. Jason Bradley isn’t selflessly posting about his good deeds on Facebook, he can be found practicing Metabolic and Nutritional Medicine at Washington Street Wellness Center in Iowa City, Iowa.