I’ve posted a number of times about how helping others makes you happier. But I know this leaves some people scratching their heads:
How much should I help others? How often? Will I be exploited? Will I end up resenting people I love if they don’t reciprocate?
We all know selfless givers who are taken advantage of and taken for granted. Nobody wants to feel like a sucker.
So this simple thing doesn’t seem so simple — and it feels safer to just be selfish no matter what fancy research and your conscience might tell you.
Adam Grant has a wonderful new book coming out next week, Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success, which directly tackles this issue and provides some firm answers grounded in research.
Constant Selfless Giving Is Not The Way
Being a martyr stresses you out and is actually bad for your health.
Research shows that on the job, people who engage in selfless giving end up feeling overloaded and stressed, as well as experiencing conflict between work and family. This is even true in marriages: in one study of married couples, people who failed to maintain an equilibrium between their own needs and their partner’s needs became more depressed over the next six months.
Chunking Beats Sprinkling
Want to be happier? Do all your giving one day a week.
The chunkers achieved gains in happiness; the sprinklers didn’t. Happiness increased when people performed all five giving acts in a single day, rather than doing one a day. Lyubomirsky and colleagues speculate that “spreading them over the course of a week might have diminished salience and power or made them less distinguishable from participants habitual kind of behavior.”
And this is exactly why selfless givers end us stressed out and overloaded.
…selfless givers are more inclined to sprinkle their giving throughout their days, helping whenever people need them. This can become highly distracting and exhausting, robbing selfless givers of their attention and energy necessary to complete their own work.
So How Much Should You Give?
Remember The 100 Hour Rule. One hundred hours a year — in other words, 2 hours per week.
One hundred seems to be a magical number when it comes to giving. In a study of more than two thousand Australian adults in their mid-sixties, those who volunteered between one hundred and eight hundred hours per year were happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who volunteered fewer than one hundred or more than eight hundred hours annually. In another study, American adults who volunteered at least one hundred hours in 1998 were more likely to be alive in 2000. There were no benefits of volunteering more than one hundred hours. This is the 100-hour rule of volunteering. It appears to be the range where giving is maximally energizing and minimally draining.
A hundred hours a year breaks down to just two hours a week. Research shows that if people start volunteering two hours a week, their happiness, satisfaction and self-esteem go up a year later.
What’s The Best Kind Of Giving To Do?
A kind that is meaningful to you. No, you can’t fake it if you want the benefits.
Psychologists Netta Weinstein and Richard Ryan have demonstrated that giving has an energizing effect only if it’s an enjoyable, meaningful choice rather than undertaken our of duty and obligation.
So What’s The Next Step?
Breaking it down:
- To be happier and healthier you need to give to others.
- Don’t be a martyr. Constant selfless giving is not the answer.
- 100 hrs a year is the minimum to increase happiness, so do about 2 hrs per week or a little more.
- You need to do it because you want to, so find a way to help others that is meaningful to you.
- It’s better to cluster those activities than to spread them out.
What do I personally plan to do? I’m going to designate a DAY OF GIVING per week and make sure I’m clustering my 2hrs of meaningful helping.
In a few weeks I’ll post my results. Please give it a try yourself and let me know how it works for you. You can write me here.
This is going to be fun. :)
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