It turns out that helping others actually helps you. People who do more volunteer work tend to be happier than those that don't. This is a universal phenomenon. In fact, pro-social behavior seems, across most cultures, to improve people's happiness, said Laurie Santos, a professor of psychology at Yale University who runs the hugely popular Science of Wellbeing course. Neurologically, too, there seems to be a strong case for serving others -- the warm glow that it brings is activated by the reward centers of the brain, like the ventral striatum. Unlike other highs, this warm glow can last far longer, helping us to tackle loneliness and bringing a sense of purpose to our lives which may not come from our work. Without stress-inducing financial considerations, volunteering can help us explore new avenues, learn new skills and foster a feeling of gratitude. Over-stretching and over-commitment, which could lead to guilt and stress, need to be avoided though. The understanding that even small deeds can have great impact on others and on us, can help to achieve balance.

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