It has long been said that “it is better to give, than to receive.” A recent study showed just how true this age-old adage really is.

Maria E. Pagano, PhD, an associate professor of psychiatry at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland, looked into the Helper Therapy Principle, a theory that is based on the idea that when people help other individuals, they are also helping themselves, especially when the helper and the person getting help share the same problem.

Among the studies which supported this theory were of alcoholics who helped out other alcoholics. The studies showed that these “helper” alcoholics were nearly twice as likely to stay sober one year after treatment. They also had decreased levels of depression three months after they began to help other alcoholics. According to Dr. Pagano, this is because “helping others with a desire to live sober transforms the helper’s dark past and pain to greater good and enables him or her to be uniquely helpful to a fellow sufferer.”

Dr. Pagano adds that even though helping out fellow alcoholics is one of the foundations of a 12-step program like Alcoholics Anonymous, a helper and the receiver of the help need not share a common problem in order for the helper to get the health benefits of being good. Helping others has been associated with lower levels of depression, higher self-esteem, longer life and greater life satisfaction.

Cases of alcoholics helping other alcoholics were not the only studies which supported Dr. Pagano’s investigation. People with medical conditions also benefited from giving of themselves. People with multiple sclerosis who were trained to have 15-minute supportive conversations every month with other people who are also suffering from the disease showed lowered levels of depression and improved self-esteem and self-confidence. Likewise, individuals suffering from chronic pain who supported other chronic pain sufferers reported a considerable decrease in pain.