In our last five blog posts, we have discussed the Study of Adult Development, a human behavior study that began at Harvard University in 1938. After nearly eighty years of collecting data, the directors of the study believe that they have cracked at least part of the code to living a mentally and physically healthy life.
In August, Business Insider simplified the results of the study into 6 things that make people live longer, happier lives: avoiding smoking and drinking, pursuing an education, developing loving relationships, developing emotional intelligence, developing coping skills, and giving back. In this final chapter on the study, we will discuss the sixth key to the good life: giving back.
According to the Study of Adult Development, generativityis a defining factor of healthy aging — both physically and mentally. What is generativity? In his book on the study, former director, George E. Valliant, defines generativity as community building. He says, “depending on the opportunities that the society makes available, generativity can mean serving as a consultant, guide, mentor, or coach to young adults in the larger society.” Business Insider simplified this definition to simply mean giving back.
According to Valliant, “research reveals that between age 30 and 45 our need for achievement declines and our need for community and affiliation increases.” So as we mature, we will naturally become less focused on ourselves and more focused on others.
There is nothing wrong with ambition or self-gratification. In fact, taking care of ourselves is a very important aspect of physical and mental health as well. However, studies show that we should not lose sight of what is happening around us. Making connections and sharing our knowledge and success are just as important as our achievements.
Valliant reports that generative men and women in their 50s were three to six times more happy and healthy in their 70s than those who did not give back.
According to another study at Carnegie Mellon, adults over 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure. This study also determined that volunteering helped reduce stress. And a study in Health Psychology determined that those who regularly give back live longer than those who don’t. But how is this outcome achieved?
Well, volunteering often helps people feel more socially connected, which helps build confidence and can help combat symptoms of loneliness, depression, and anxiety. And when you are less anxious and depressed, your risk of certain diseases like hypertension and heart disease may lower.
Most people agree that there is a certain feeling that comes from helping others. Most of the time, you get more out of it than you give by making new friends or simply getting to see the joy that your actions have brought others.
And with the knowledge that relationships and emotional intelligence are so important to aging, it’s no wonder that an activity involving personal connection is also important to our physical and mental health.
Like Valliant said, there are numerous ways to give back. You don’t have to donate thousands of dollars or hours of your time. You could mentor a student or employee in your office. You could offer classes or lessons to help people learn a certain skill. Or maybe you just want to donate your old clothes and knickknacks to a local shelter.
If you’re not sure about the volunteer opportunities that are available to you, try searching online. You could also ask your boss if there are any opportunities to volunteer at work. Some other good resources are local churches, elderly communities, assisted living facilities, and homeless shelters. It’s easy to give just a little bit of your time when you put in just a little bit of effort.
If you would like to learn more about the other aspects of a happy and healthy life, check out the previous posts on our blog. And if you are interested in how to improve your mental health, then contact us at Serenity Mental Health Centers to set up an appointment with a psychiatrist.