It goes without saying that helping others is good for the people receiving the help. But what about for
the individual helper?
A recent study by Nadav Klein at the Harris School of Public Policy at the University of Chicago (Klein 2017) investigated whether participants who volunteered and gave money to help others reported greater meaning in their lives.
Previous research has documented the many benefits associated with viewing one’s life as meaningful, including fewer mental and physical symptoms and greater longevity.
Klein found that, in a nationally representative sample of adult Americans, greater volunteering was associated with a stronger belief that one’s life has a purpose. In addition, the study found that spending money on others increased perceptions of meaning in life, compared to spending money on oneself.
But how exactly does spending money on others increase perceptions of meaning in life? - by increasing one’s self-worth? – by providing a sense of connection to others? – by affirming one’s moral values? – by fostering a sense of personal control?
In a follow-up study, Klein found that spending money to benefit other people increases perceptions of meaning in life through increasing perceptions of self-worth. In other words, there is a self-sustaining quality to helping others. Prosocial behavior builds personal worth and self-esteem, which then strengthens the sense that one’s life is meaningful.