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The delightfully simple reason why doing good makes you feel good

Ever wondered why doing something nice for a friend or stranger makes you feel so good? New research has the answer.

If you’ve ever volunteered for a charity, cooked a meal for a stressed-out friend or simply paid a stranger a compliment, you’ll know doing good can make you feel good, too. 

While giving up your time isn’t always easy – especially if you’re someone who leads a busy life – it can be hard to resist the boost that comes from such a win-win situation.

But why does doing good give us such a boost to our wellbeing? According to new research by scientists at the universities of Verona and Padua, the answer could lie in the driving force behind it.

To carry out the research the scientists first identified the kind of wellbeing boost they believed to be associated with doing good, known as ‘eudaimonic wellbeing’. 

Derived from Greek, the term refers to an inner feeling of fulfilment and “realisation of one’s own nature” – not unlike like that deeply rewarding feeling you get when you achieve something big or worthwhile. 

This is in comparison to the more fleeting, surface-level boost associated with ‘hedonistic wellbeing’, which occurs when we do something fun or pleasurable.

In this way, then, the researchers hypothesised that doing good feels good because it provides a source of eudaimonic wellbeing. But where does this wellbeing come from?

Doing good provides us with a richer, more fulfilling form of wellbeing.

That’s where the research comes in. To find out why doing good provides this sense of eudaimonic wellbeing, the researchers asked a group of 175 people who volunteer at non-profit organisations to assess their motivation for doing good as well as how their volunteering made them feel. 

The team behind the study thought there could be a link between the idea that volunteering feels good and the reasons why the volunteers volunteered in the first place, and they were correct.

Indeed, because the volunteers were motivated by a kind of intrinsic motivation – a kind of autonomous motivation fuelled by the desire to fulfil one’s inner needs or interests as opposed to chasing things like money, fame or respect – the volunteering gave them a sense of fulfilment, which in turn boosted their eudaimonic wellbeing.  

In short, then, doing good makes us feel good because it taps into our inner drive, something isolated from the more-surface level motivators we might chase on a day-to-day basis.

By doing something that taps into our inner selves and values, we’re able to achieve a much more long-lasting, rich boost to our wellbeing – and do some good while we’re at it, too. 

Want to start doing more good? Here are three quick and easy things you can do to get started 

Volunteering can take a variety of forms.
  1. Donate to your local charity shop: if it’s been a while since you last had a wardrobe clearout, identify the clothes you don’t wear anymore and donate them to a charity shop. Any extra coats, blankets and other warm clothing you have would also make a great donation to your local homeless shelter.
  2. Join a clean-up crew: if you’ve got a spare hour every now and then, joining or setting up a local ‘clean-up crew’ and going litter picking is an easy way to tap into your inner sense of fulfilment. It’s also a great way to connect with others, which will give you a dose of hedonistic wellbeing, too.
  3. Cook a meal for a friend: you don’t need to go big to make a difference. If you know a friend is feeling stressed out, sad or if you just want to give them an extra mid-week boost, taking the time to cook someone a meal and taking it to their door could make a massive difference to their mood (and yours too). 

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