Dec
14
2006

Bah-humbug: Science is proving there is a Helper's High

Happy Scrooge: At the conclusion of "A Christmas Carol," Ebenezer Scrooge is on a huge Helper's High, the feeling of euphoria that can come with doing good works and helping people.
Happy Scrooge: At the conclusion of "A Christmas Carol," Ebenezer Scrooge is on a huge Helper's High, the feeling of euphoria that can come with doing good works and helping people.

It took the visits of three ghosts to turn Ebenezer on to wonders of the “Helper’s High.” But by the end of “A Christmas Carol,” the formerly uptight tight-wad was jumping, hugging and giving to everyone and anyone he met.

Is this the far-fetched work of fiction? Not really. More and more scientific evidence is point to the real health and emotional benefits from giving of our time and money – also known as the “Helper’s High.”

John Hopkins Magazine recently detailed the works by Allan Luks, who has studied Helper’s High for quite some time. He describes the effect as being similar to a runner’s high after a workout. There is a release of endorphins in the giver’s body the lead to a feeling of elation followed by a feeling of calm. And unlike exercise, there’s evidence that the helper can actually get a small Helper’s High in recalling helping or charitable acts long after they’re finished.

Luks’ research also shows that of the 95 percent of study participants who have felt a Helper’s High, nine out of ten graded their health condition better than those who haven’t experienced a Helper’s High. That’s led to Luks’ postulation that volunteering or giving helps ease stress in the body, which can then lead to these beneficial health factors:

  • The possibility of strengthening immune-system activity.
  • A decrease in both the intensity and the awareness of physical pain.
  • Activation of the emotions that are vital to the maintenance of good health.
  • Reduction of the incidence of attitudes, such as chronic hostility, that negatively arouse and damage the body.
  • The multiple benefits to the body's systems provided by stress relief.

In separate research, a 10-year study of the physical, health and social activities of 2,700 men in Tecumseh, Michigan, found that those who did regular volunteer work had death rates two and one-half times lower than those who didn't.

Another study done at Harvard looked at what researchers there dubbed the "Mother Theresa effect." Students watching videos of the late Mother Theresa helping the poor in Calcutta actually had their immune system response kick in.

And recently on ABC News 20/20, the stories of Duke University Medical Center heart patients showed stunning effects of the Helper’s High. Recovering patients were asked to visit current heart patients — no particular agenda, just to listen and lend support. By doing that, the volunteers had better health after their heart attacks. In fact, the helper’s recovery rate was 60 percent faster than those who chose not to help other patients.

Have you ever experienced Helper's High? Share your story here on Science Buzz by posting a comment to this section.

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