Skip to main content

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. 

a person cleaning a beach
Image used with permission by copyright holder

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. 

Editors' Recommendations

BethAnn Mayer
Beth Ann's work has appeared on and In her spare time, you can find her running (either marathons…
25 badass women in history you should know about
Can you name 25 key women in history? Here's our list of some of the badass women who made a difference
Maud Stevens Wagner | badass women in history

Many women have made history by shaking up the status quo, inventing and discovering new things and fighting for their rights (or the rights of others). If you can name more badass men in history than women, it's time to do a little more research. We decided to look into several history books, and compiled a list of some of the most iron-willed, courageous, and badass women in history.

You'll get to learn how these women struggled due to patriarchy and other societal factors, as well as how they have made a profound difference in their communities— and even the world. From a Georgian queen to a professional gamer, here are 25 women from all walks of life who empower us.
Althea Gibson

Read more
The best vinyl records (and what you need to know about this timeless format)
Vinyl records are timeless and every man should have a solid collections. Here are the best albums to have.

If the last decade is any indication, vinyl records aren't going anywhere. Audiophiles and casual music listeners alike can't get enough of the format, a physical artifact built for the turntable. Sales continue to surge and musicians continue to release music in this high-fidelity manner.

Sow how's your collection? We could go on and on about the more esoteric albums you should have stocked in your crates but here, we're breaking down the essentials. The following well-curated list will serve as the skeleton of your sprawling vinyl record collection. By all means, go above and beyond this list, but be sure to start here, if you haven't already.

Read more
MDMA therapy is coming soon: What the experts think you should know
What's the deal with MDMA therapy?

These days, while psychedelic therapy in general is a hot topic, MDMA-assisted psychotherapy is a particularly prominent talking point; it’s leading the way in terms of potential legalization, at least in a therapeutic context. Once almost unanimously considered a mere party drug — and wrongly, a deadly one at that — this powerful substance has undergone a radical reappraisal.

What is MDMA, though? What does the research show about its therapeutic benefits? What’s it like to actually take the stuff? Let’s take a look at all of this and more.

Read more