Helping others can make you happier as you age

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Researchers say older people may be happier doing things for others. Chalit Saphaphak/Stocksy United
  • Researchers say helping others can make you happier as you age.
  • They say it’s because this type of behavior helps release a mood-enhancing hormone known as oxytocin.
  • It was previously thought that this neurochemical was primarily released in young people.
  • Experts say doing for others can involve charity work or even just saying hello to people in stores, elevators and other public places.

Does the fountain of youth and happiness flow with charitable donations and actions for others?

A recently published scientific study suggests that might be the case.

The study, published in the journalFrontiers in Behavioral Neuroscience, reports that people who donate to charity and do for others see an increase in their production of oxytocin, a mood-enhancing hormone linked to things like reproduction that we’ve long had. thought that it decreases as a person ages.

The study involved around 100 people between the ages of 18 and 99 who shared a video about a baby boy with cancer. The researchers then compared the level of oxytocin in the participants’ blood before and after watching the film.

Attendees were then given the option to donate to the cancer charity in the film. The results revealed that those who released the most hormones were the most likely to donate. Many of these study participants were older.

Paul J Zak, Ph.D., study author and director of the Center for Neuroeconomics Studies at Claremont Graduate University in California, told Healthline that the study was the first time connecting and increasing l oxytocin were demonstrated in the elderly.

“What was surprising…was the strength of the relationship [between doing good acts and releasing more oxytocin]”, Zak said. “He’s so strong in the elderly, he’s really one of the most ‘wow’ and bulletproof [results] I’ve seen in 20 years of being in the lab.

Zak said he was drawn to the study after years of examining the impact of oxytocin in young people. The hormone has long been known to show increased production in “pro-social” behavior at a younger age. Zak wanted to see if this could also be the case with older people.

What the researchers found, he said, is “also consistent with our intuition,” as it is often suggested that those who do and give stay happy longer.

“By the way,” he added, “the people who are the happiest also live the longest.”

“That’s an end result for me,” said Jorge Barraza, Ph.D., professor of consumer behavior in the online Master of Science in Applied Psychology program at the University of Southern California and co-author. of the study.

“Very little is known about the role of oxytocin as we age,” he told Healthline.

Because oxytocin is associated with reproduction, he said, the assumption has long been that as we age, its production declines.

“Now we see indeed [production] seems to be impacted outside of breeding,” he said. “It makes you wonder.”

Should we all rush out and sign up for that local charity walk or find a way to help out a neighbor as part of a proactive health initiative? Perhaps.

Sanam Hafeez, PsyD, a neuropsychologist in New York, director of Comprehend the Mind and a professor at Columbia University, told Healthline the study surprised her after years of thinking that oxytocin production declines with age. .

She sees it as good news and potentially a way to improve our lives both physically and mentally as we age.

“It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy,” Hafeez said. “You do good and it makes you feel good, so you want to do more, and you do.”

She said the study shows good works release oxytocin, or as she calls it, a “feel-good” hormone.

So, could this mean that doing good at an early age – or doing more good as we get older – could help us live better and longer?

Zak and Barraza want to know. They founded a company called Immersion that seeks to use wearable devices to help track things like oxytocin levels and what drives them.

The idea, Barraza said, is a wearable device that captures when we’re “thriving” or “when they can have experiences that benefit them.”

Why would a person need this?

“We’re busy and just not good at it,” Barraza explained.

In the meantime, Zak said, everyone — of all ages and social backgrounds — can take some kind of affirmative action.

And if you’re not one to raise your hand to organize the local charity tournament, he says, that doesn’t mean all is lost.

He himself started with the simple.

“A few years ago I decided to say ‘hi’ to people in the elevator,” he said. “A smile, a hello. It can do a lot for a person’s day.

For those who might have social awkwardness, he suggests getting a dog. It can be a nice way for another and also a possible icebreaker to befriend or be kind to others.

Zak also suggests doing more things in a group — exercise, hobbies, churches — any place that puts you in a happy group setting will help.

Step by step, the study shows that your production of oxytocin should increase.

“The key issue here is anyone can do it,” Zak said. “The brain is adaptable.”


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