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Study: We finally know why doing good things makes you feel good, too

Scientists cracked the code on why good deeds give us an emotional boost. Here's what to know.

If you’re looking for how to be happy, consider doing a good deed.

Think about it: Have you ever volunteered to walk dogs at an animal shelter or taken a pal to a doctor’s appointment? You may have felt good inside. Your good deed may have come at the expense of you binge-watching The Crown in one sitting. Helping others is a time commitment. However — even with all the bad news going around — it’s one many people embrace and feel is rewarding. 

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A new study by researchers at the universities of Verona and Padua is shining a light on why volunteering boosts well-being. The authors of the research, published this year, believe that the reason behind someone’s decision to volunteer may trigger the positive emotions someone associates with it. 

In the study, the scientists identified two different types of well-being: Eudamonic, a Greek word that translates into “good spirit” and often translates to “happiness” and “welfare.” In the study, scientists used it to describe the fulfilled feelings someone has when they do something they deem worthwhile. The other type of well-being, hedonistic, passes more quickly and happens when we do something fun, like ride a rollercoaster.

Researchers felt volunteerism was more associated with Eudaimonic well-being. Why?

That’s what the study explains. To perform it, the researchers recruited 175 people who did volunteer work for a nonprofit organization. Then, they asked them to think about their motivation for volunteering and how doing good affected them emotionally. 

The findings supported the authors’ hypothesis that people volunteered to meet their intrinsic needs or interests rather than gain fame, fortune, or respect. As a result, volunteers experienced a boost in eudaimonic well-being — not hedonistic well-being.

What does that mean for you if you’re looking to figure out how to be happy in the coming year? Look for opportunities to do good deeds — whether it’s volunteering with a nonprofit or doing something kind for a loved one. However, consider your motivation for them. Are you doing it for a pat on the back, or are you truly interested in doing good? Pick an opportunity that aligns with the latter. 

If you love animals, try walking dogs. Did a friend who has been there for you recently become a new parent? Offer to cook meals or do laundry for them. Consider keeping it on the down-low and not telling everyone about your efforts, instead reaping the benefits from the internal knowledge of a good deed well done.

If you have your heart set on volunteering for nonprofits but are unsure where to start, consider trying the following:

  • Perform a Google search for “nonprofits near me”
  • Ask local family and friends
  • Look for ideas in Facebook groups or through a religious organization or governmental agency in your area. Religious organizations often know of non-denominational volunteer opportunities, such as soup kitchens, nearby.
  • Try an app.

If you don’t feel great about your efforts, you can always take a step back, assess why, and switch. 

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