The Health Benefits of Altruism

This blog post was originally published on October 7, 2014.

It takes on many forms: paying it forward, peer-to-peer support, volunteering, being there for a friend or partner. Altruism, the concern for well-being of others, is a powerful part of overall wellness. Doing things for other people can help build relationships and bring meaning to life. And, if that’s not awesome enough, altruistic actions can also have health benefits! Though the spirit of altruism is helping others, it has been shown that altruistic actions have an impact both on others and the person doing altruistic things.

Here are some of the health and wellness benefits of altruism:

  • Increases satisfaction and self-esteem

On a psychological level, doing things for other people through service and volunteering has been shown to be associated with greater positive feelings, well-being, and overall satisfaction. In a study by Sawyer and colleagues, most students surveyed who volunteered for a peer education program found it a valuable activity, and nearly half of those surveyed reported increased self-esteem as a result of participating in the program.

 

  • Deepens knowledge

Studies of peer education – or programs where a group is taught how to offer education and support to those in similar situations (ex: college students who are trained to provide health education to other students) – show a wide array of benefits to both the educators themselves, and the persons they are educating. In one study, peer educators were found to have increased their own health and wellness knowledge, with 43% adopting healthier behaviors themselves. Interestingly, the same study also found that some (20%) students participating in peer education programs also changed their career direction as a result of participating in the program.

 

  • Enhances cultural acuity

By being of service to others and advocating for their needs, activities like peer support and volunteerism can help build awareness and perspective. In the study by Sawyer et al, 20% of those participating in peer education programs were more open to students’ behaviors and opinions. Altruistic activities can challenge one to think about issues that another person or group is facing, and increase empathy as a result –important components of cultural wellness.

 

  • Acts as a powerful motivator for individual and population-level behavior change

Mind experiment: pick a health behavior –anything from vaccination, to screening, or smoking cessation. Now think about the following questions: do you want to do this behavior for yourself? How about committing to the health behavior for the benefit of others (partners, family, friends, community members)?

For many behaviors, the desire to perform or commit to a given behavior can be based on a mix of personal versus interpersonal motivations. In a personal example, I recently thought about hand-washing in my house. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely appreciate the importance of hand washing! But, when I thought about it, the desire to wash my hands to keep my partner healthy was as much, or possibly more, of a motivator for me than me washing my hands for my own health’s sake. In yet another example, with behaviors like getting the flu shot each year, it can often be very powerful to consider the benefits both for oneself (i.e., you are less likely to get the flu), and to others (i.e., it reduces flu transmission to the population).  All in all, altruistic reasons for adopting healthy behaviors can be extremely powerful – sometimes more so than the reasons you have for adopting change just to help yourself.

 

Getting involved

 Interested in getting involved in service and volunteering programs on the UNC campus? There are some fantastic service opportunities through the Carolina Center for Public Service, one of Student Wellness’ peer groups, or Student Wellness’ interpersonal violence prevention trainings. Be sure to check out our recent Healthy Heels blog post on being a more conscious volunteer.

It’s important to note that the health benefits of altruistic actions are not limited to formal service and volunteering opportunities. Every day, smaller actions that consider other people’s needs and feelings or help others can also have a powerful impact for oneself and for campus culture.

The Health Benefits of Altruism

It takes on many forms: paying it forward, peer-to-peer support, volunteering, being there for a friend or partner. Altruism, the concern for well-being of others, is a powerful part of overall wellness. Doing things for other people can help build relationships and bring meaning to life. And, if that’s not awesome enough, altruistic actions can also have health benefits! Though the spirit of altruism is helping others, it has been shown that altruistic actions have an impact both on others and the person doing altruistic things.

Here are some of the health and wellness benefits of altruism:

  • Increases satisfaction and self-esteem

On a psychological level, doing things for other people through service and volunteering has been shown to be associated with greater positive feelings, well-being, and overall satisfaction. In a study by Sawyer and colleagues, most students surveyed who volunteered for a peer education program found it a valuable activity, and nearly half of those surveyed reported increased self-esteem as a result of participating in the program.

 

  • Deepens knowledge

Studies of peer education – or programs where a group is taught how to offer education and support to those in similar situations (ex: college students who are trained to provide health education to other students) – show a wide array of benefits to both the educators themselves, and the persons they are educating. In one study, peer educators were found to have increased their own health and wellness knowledge, with 43% adopting healthier behaviors themselves. Interestingly, the same study also found that some (20%) students participating in peer education programs also changed their career direction as a result of participating in the program.

 

  • Enhances cultural acuity

By being of service to others and advocating for their needs, activities like peer support and volunteerism can help build awareness and perspective. In the study by Sawyer et al, 20% of those participating in peer education programs were more open to students’ behaviors and opinions. Altruistic activities can challenge one to think about issues that another person or group is facing, and increase empathy as a result –important components of cultural wellness.

 

  • Acts as a powerful motivator for individual and population-level behavior change

Mind experiment: pick a health behavior –anything from vaccination, to screening, or smoking cessation. Now think about the following questions: do you want to do this behavior for yourself? How about committing to the health behavior for the benefit of others (partners, family, friends, community members)?

For many behaviors, the desire to perform or commit to a given behavior can be based on a mix of personal versus interpersonal motivations. In a personal example, I recently thought about hand-washing in my house. Don’t get me wrong: I definitely appreciate the importance of hand washing! But, when I thought about it, the desire to wash my hands to keep my partner healthy was as much, or possibly more, of a motivator for me than me washing my hands for my own health’s sake. In yet another example, with behaviors like getting the flu shot each year, it can often be very powerful to consider the benefits both for oneself (i.e., you are less likely to get the flu), and to others (i.e., it reduces flu transmission to the population).  All in all, altruistic reasons for adopting healthy behaviors can be extremely powerful – sometimes more so than the reasons you have for adopting change just to help yourself.

 

Getting involved

 Interested in getting involved in service and volunteering programs on the UNC campus? There are some fantastic service opportunities through the Carolina Center for Public Service, one of Student Wellness’ peer groups, or Student Wellness’ interpersonal violence prevention trainings. Be sure to check out our recent Healthy Heels blog post on being a more conscious volunteer.

It’s important to note that the health benefits of altruistic actions are not limited to formal service and volunteering opportunities. Every day, smaller actions that consider other people’s needs and feelings or help others can also have a powerful impact for oneself and for campus culture.

What is food justice?

*Updated on 9/9/2014*

What is food justice?

“Food Justice views hunger as a result of unjust social dynamics including racism, sexism, homophobia, and classism. Food justice advocates for policies which rebalance food systems in terms of social inequalities, such as government support for farmers of color, marginalized communities of color with poor food access, and exploited workers.” – The Louisville Fellowship of Reconciliation

In other words….food justice addresses the inequality between who gets to eat a variety of healthier and culturally-competent food options and who does not.

What does food justice have to do with health and wellness?

Here at Student Wellness, we like to think of wellness in terms of dimensions. Wellness is not just about being physically healthy and free of sickness or disease; it also means nurturing all the dimensions of wellness, including social, emotional, cultural, intellectual, spiritual, financial, physical, and environmental. Food justice relates to wellness in a number of these dimensions.

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Food justice and environmental wellness

Food justice is related to the environment in many ways. Access to food options may be limited due to the location of people’s homes or means of transportation. There may be an absence of fresh food or there could be a limited choice of affordable food items. People’s social environments may stigmatize people who are hungry, which is another aspect of food justice. 

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Food justice and financial wellness

Food injustice perpetuates the unequal class structure in the United States. Without educating ourselves, we could unintentionally support stigmas and misconceptions around poverty and hunger. One common misconception is that only the poorest of poor people are hungry, but we want everyone to know that hunger can exist outside of poverty.

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Food justice and social wellness

By reducing the stigma associated with poverty and hunger, we can create a safer space for people to access free or low cost food without harassment, judgment, or condescension. We can do this by normalizing the usage of places like food pantries or food justice community gardens.

We should avoid falling into the trap of “I’m helping you. I’m serving you. (I’m better than you),” also known as the “savior complex.” We can avoid this by transforming traditional “community service” or “volunteering” opportunities into those that create a social culture where ALL people work together to support each other.

By working together we can strengthen interpersonal relationships. This is the groundwork for community empowerment.

What does food justice have to do with UNC?

Student Wellness and other campus and community partners are very proud to support a wonderful student initiative! Starting October 17, 2014, we will welcome UNC’s very first on-campus food pantry: The Carolina Cupboard. This pantry will be located in the Avery Residence Hall Basement, Room #BC and will be open to UNC students. Stay tuned for more information on how you can qualify!

By bringing a pantry to campus we are increasing access to food and promoting food justice. We hope you will work with us, the Residence Hall Association, the Office of Fraternity & Sorority Life and Community Involvement, and other advisory board representatives to join this group of motivated and passionate undergraduate students to reduce stigma!

 What does it have to do with us (students)?

This is a unique opportunity at Carolina for all of us to educate ourselves about the issues affecting our Tar Heel community. It’s up to ALL of us to make sure we all feel safe, supported, and included on this campus. Soon, the campus will be flooded with donation bins (graciously supplied by Vice Chancellor Crisp) in various locations – including our Wellness Suite on the 2nd floor of the Campus Health Building. Once the donation bins are up and running, we encourage you to fill them up!

Here’s what you can do NOW: ‘Like’ the Tar Heel Wellness Challenge Facebook page. For the next 14 days, we have a social media challenge about “Environmental Wellness,” one of the dimensions we talked about above. Comment on this blog post below or write a post on the Facebook page with #THWC. You can write about food justice, environmental wellness, or another relevant topic that is important to you. By participating in an activity (such as a writing exercise) related to environmental wellness, you get entered into a raffle to win $20.00 to the UNC Student Stores!

Stay tuned for more information, including the Carolina Cupboard’s new website! In the meantime, participate in the #THWC challenge, and mark your calendars from September 29 through October 3 for a UNC Food Pantry kick-off week!

Updates: Check out Carolina Cupboard’s social media pages!

Website: http://carolinacupboard.strikingly.com/

Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/CarolinaCupboard

Twitter: @UNCFoodPantry 

Jani