This idea was first introduced in 2017, after a study found that chronic pain was decreased with philanthropic work.

By Nashia Baker
January 02, 2020

There is no doubt about it: Volunteer work is helpful for your community as a whole. But new research is now showing that philanthropy can also be beneficial to your health. According to CNN, this idea was first introduced back in 2017, when a study published by the National Center for Biotechnology Information revealed that people living with chronic pain experienced less aches and increased feelings of purpose while volunteering. Today, new research out of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences explains the key reason behind the three-year-old findings: The parts of the brain that react to pain are deactivated when you perform the act of giving.

Steve Debenport/Getty

During the trial, the study's authors, Yilu Wang, Jianqiao Ge, Hanqi Zhang, Haixia Wang, and Xiaofei Xie, tested 287 people's reactions to different scenarios related to philanthropy. Overall, they found that participants dealing with physical pain benefited from volunteering. "Whereas most of the previous theories and research have emphasized the long-term and indirect benefits for altruistic individuals, the present research demonstrated that participants under conditions of pain benefited from altruistic acts instantly," they wrote.

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One key test that brought the team to their findings? Researchers asked the group how helpful they would feel if they donated money to orphans. While receiving their responses, the researchers scanned the participants' brains and administered an electric shock to their hands. They quickly discovered that the part of the brain that controls pain didn't react as intensely to the electric shock for people who did offer to give money—as opposed to those who said they would not attempt to donate.

The findings essentially show that pain can be mitigated while helping others. The authors did state that additional research is necessary to expand on the notion, but they believe pairing volunteer work with a medicine regimen can "supplement current behavioral therapies to treat pain."

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