Improve your wellbeing through giving

On this page, we take a dive into the benefits of volunteering and the different ways to be more altruistic in our lives.

How can the act of GIVING improve wellbeing?

What do you do when you are having a bad day? Buy yourself a nice coffee? Decide to treat yourself something you’ve been wanting for a long time? Many of us think that when we are feeling down, doing something nice for ourselves is the best way to feel better. But what if what we think is true is wrong? On this page, we explore how altruism doesn’t only benefit the receiver …

Evidence shows giving to others is better for our wellbeing

In her course, The Science of Wellbeing, Dr Laurie Santos of Yale University explains that one of the most powerful ways to make ourselves feel better is by doing something nice for someone else. So, the next time you’re feeling low, instead of buying yourself a coffee, how about buying a coffee for someone else? In their 2008 study, Elizabeth Dunn, a social psychologist at University of British Colombia, and colleagues found that people who spend even a small amount of their money on others feel significantly happier than those who don’t. What is especially interesting is that they also found that people are not very good at predicting what will make them happiest. We assume that spending money on ourselves will bring the greatest gains in terms of happiness, when in fact spending money on someone else brings greater happiness.

Dr David Hamilton, an organic chemist with an interest in the placebo effect and the science of kindness, says that many scientific studies find that people who volunteer for charities and other organisations are more resistant to depression. This doesn’t mean that people who volunteer can’t feel depressed, but simply that they are less likely to. You could see it as volunteering, giving, and doing something kind results in more resilience and some resistance to depression. There could be a couple of reasons for this – firstly, simply that the act of giving is good for us and makes us feel good. Secondly, that volunteering can help us to feel a part of something larger than ourselves; part of a greater whole with a purpose. This can help us to feel connected to others we are helping and to others who are also volunteering, and we know that feeling connected to others plays a role in mental health.

Examples of volunteering activities

Seeing yourself and your happiness as linked to the wider community can be incredibly rewarding and creates connections with people around you. The Buildingresilient communitiesreport lists some volunteering activities that proved most beneficial in terms of increasing wellbeing. Here’s a selection from the list:

  • peer support, including self-help groups, peer-led education and advice
  • organising and/or participating in environmental projects
  • volunteering in health settings, particularly when involved in the direct care and education of patients
  • mentoring and teaching programmes
  • social support of older people
  • providing palliative/hospice care
  • organising community activities
  • volunteering within a religious community.

Social support of older people has been listed as one of the most beneficial volunteering activities for increasing our sense of wellbeing

On this page, we take a dive into the benefits of volunteering and the different ways to be more altruistic in our lives.

How to start your giving journey

Giving just a few hours of your time each week can make a difference to your wellbeing. Here are a few tips to get your giving journey off to a great start:

  • do something you love
  • list the skills you have to offer – it is not just about your professional skills, for example, housekeeping, driving, fundraising and organisational skills are very much in demand
  • don’t be afraid to commit – even one hour a week can help
  • go digital – there are apps that can help you to help others, such as Borrow My Doggy ,which connects dog owners with trusted local dog sitters and walkers across the UK to share the care of a dog. For more ideas see the UK Fundraising website.
  • get the whole pharmacy team involved to help strengthen work morale and relationships, and have an even bigger impact. If you’re a student, why not get your pharmacy school involved
  • remember that giving isn’t just about money. Check out our downloadable resource on alternative ways to give back to the community with easy acts of giving.
When we take the time to count our kindnesses over the course of a week, our subjective happiness is increased.
Research by Otake and colleagues, 2006

Counting acts of kindness

It’s not just the act of giving that helps boost our wellbeing, but also acknowledging how we have helped others and counting our own acts of kindness. In a 2006 study, Keiko Otake, professor of Health Psychology at Kwansei Gakuin University, and colleagues, found that when we take the time to count our kindnesses over the course of a week, our subjective happiness is increased. At the end of the week, why not take a few moments to look at what kind, giving acts you have accomplished that week? Simply taking a moment to take stock of the things we have done for others can result in you feeling happier, and experiencing this boost in happiness can then potentially create a positive cycle whereby you want to continue giving and doing kind things.

As we’ve explored, there are many options for giving. You can buy a coffee for a friend or stranger, donate money to charity, volunteer for a cause you care about, offer a listening ear to someone who is facing tough times… the options go on and on. If you would like to explore ways to give to our pharmacy family, we have different opportunities at Pharmacist Support for you to support us. These include volunteering your timesharing our wellbeing resources with your colleagues and peers to support them with their wellbeing, and donating money to help us continue supporting fellow pharmacists and pharmacy students through our vital Support Services.

This page was last reviewed in February 2024. 

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