Today’s social impact culture is changing the definition of "health" in the minds of emerging consumers

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Social impact factors are influencing consumer behavior across industries, including philanthropy, financial services, retail, and, perhaps most notably, health care. To explore this trend, in early 2010, our team began conducting intensive research to discover the real-world effects of social impact activities on the contemporary consumer lifestyle, shaped in large part by the millennial generation. For digital natives, a well-rounded, healthy life connected through technology is a priority.

So what’s the connection between social impact activities and good health? Here are our top three takeaways from the research: 

1. Prosocial spending improves quality of life

Research shows that doing good does feel good, scientifically speaking. According to studies at the University of California, people categorized as “grateful” reported feeling 25 percent more happiness and energy—and 20 percent less envy and resentment—than ungrateful people. The data tells us that “prosocial spending”—spending money to benefit others—shows positive signs of increasing happiness. Researchers at the University of British Columbia, Simon Fraser University, and Harvard Business School recently found evidence that “how people spend their money” plays a role in happiness; specifically, those who “spend money on others report more happiness.” It’s true of adults around the world, and both physical and mental benefits are observed. The “warm glow of giving” can even be seen in toddlers.

2. Volunteering can lower your blood pressure

It’s not just giving money to charity that makes you feel good. In a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon, 200 hours of volunteering per year correlated to lower blood pressure. Other studies have found a health benefit from as little as 100 hours of volunteering a year.

3. A sense of community satisfies basic human needs

What kind of giving boosts happiness the most? That, according to the researcher, would be the categories of “doing good” that are most closely related to satisfying the basic human needs of “relatedness, competence, and autonomy.” The list includes donating to a charity of your choice, helping a neighbor, learning a few new recycling protocols, participating in a community event, purchasing a product that helps support a cause that has touched your family, and serving on a committee to share your talent. It’s all good, and good for you, too.

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If you are as intrigued as we were, you can go deeper. Our research is summarized in a book, Do Good, Feel Better, published in January 2017. Our team did some heavy lifting! Our research for the book included a thorough review of existing literature connecting social impact activities to positive psychology and overall wellbeing. This secondary research included thoroughly reviewing hundreds of books, websites, journals, blogs, and articles to observe the types of health, wellness, and community messages that resonate best with the next generation. 

Our team’s multi-year inquiry also included primary consumer research through conducting hundreds of interviews and surveys, gathering data through online media platforms, and learning from experiments conducted in real-life situations with consumers. 

Over the course of the research, our team observed and documented the contemporary point of view that a healthy, philanthropic lifestyle embraces the full range of social impact behaviors:

  1. Caring about health and wellness
  2. Giving to charities
  3. Volunteering at a charity
  4. Serving on a charity’s board of directors
  5. Purchasing products that support a cause
  6. Recycling and respecting a sustainable environment
  7. Donating items of food and clothing
  8. Marketing a favorite charity
  9. Sharing with family and friends in need
  10. Celebrating at community events

The net-net? Here’s what really jumped out at us: 

The connection between good health and social impact activities signals an expanded definition of "health" in the minds of consumers, especially millennials. A real-world dialogue about social impact wellness itself creates fertile ground for healthcare and pharmaceutical companies to engage the hearts and minds of consumers, gather valuable data, and as a result, leverage consumer behavior to reduce costs and improve patient outcomes. 

1. Two-way connections reinforce the interplay between health and social impact behaviors

The synergy between social impact activities and wellness works both ways. Consider two consumer perspectives: 

  • “I can’t take care of other people if I’m not feeling good myself.”

A consumer’s ability to care for her own health is a key factor in her ability to participate in a wide range of social impact activities in the community, including giving to charities, volunteering, celebrating at community events, and serving on boards.

  • “Doing good for others makes me feel great.”

Emerging research continues to indicate that engaging in social impact activities correlates to better overall mental and physical health.  

2.  Social impact activities are a driver of consumer engagement in the healthcare market

Moreover, and perhaps most importantly, the connection between good health and social impact activities signals an expanded definition of "health" in the minds of consumers, especially millennials. A real-world dialogue about social impact wellness itself creates fertile ground for healthcare and pharmaceutical companies to engage the hearts and minds of consumers, gather valuable data, and as a result, leverage consumer behavior to reduce costs and improve patient outcomes. 

Our team was especially pleased to discover that the hypothesis is supported by the research process itself: Over the course of the study, an average of 92% of survey participants said that taking a survey about their social impact activities made them feel better about themselves and the good they were doing for others. This means social impact is a real-world "sticky factor" to improve the success of data collection efforts. 

What does it mean?

We believe the healthcare industry--including payers, providers, and pharmaceutical companies--must take steps to understand the mindset of the emerging consumer. This will not only give industry leaders a competitive advantage, but also help improve patient outcomes and reduce overall healthcare costs. And that’s good for everyone.