Nowadays we all seem to be so programmed to only give something to others if we receive something back. The act of helping others just for the sake of it has become a rare one and the desire to behave in this way an elusive quality to find in many people. In fact, many of us see those who help others as ‘do gooders’ but think about it – isn’t it a sad place to be in when we actually start looking at people who dedicate some of their time to others in a negative light?
What a lot of us don’t realise is that taking some time to help others not only helps them but also ourselves. And we’re not just talking about that warm feeling you get or the good karma you can expect to come your way. There is actual scientific evidence that shows there are benefits to helping others such as making us happier and even lengthening our life span. Hard to believe? Research has shown that those who volunteer demonstrate and improved ability to deal with stress, reduced rates of depression and even a decrease in physical illness.
So what can you do to help others? In a world where we award the people who dedicate their lives to the less fortunate it can be hard to know how you can possibly help in a way that will actually make a difference. We’re not talking about going to saint like levels of compassion and dedication but so many people use the excuse of a full-time job or a busy family life to justify to themselves why they do not do more for others. And whilst family life is incredibly important, those who say they don’t have time to help others are simply lying to themselves.
‘Helping a person will not necessarily change the world, but it will change the world for that person’
Imagine you’re out shopping and about to leave a shop. There’s someone behind you also about to leave and you have two options. You can either let yourself out and carry on to the next shop, or you can open the door for the person behind you and let them through first with a smile. Now imagine this: only last week that person found out that their husband wanted a divorce. They’re full of anger, sadness and confusion – yet today a kind person held the door open for them and smiled. This was the small reminder they needed that not everyone is out to hurt them, and it put a smile on their face for what felt like the first time in a long while. How amazing would it be to know that just through that little act – you helped someone smile?
Not only will helping someone else in this way make them smile, but it will also make you smile. Once you grasp helping others in these small ways you will also begin to notice how others help you, so take a moment to pay attention to these acts of kindness and watch how they can turn a bad day around. Researchers have even found that being helpful delivers an immense amount of pleasure – so the more you help, the happier you feel!
‘By helping others, you will learn how to help yourselves’
Aung San Suu Kyi
Helping others can have a significant positive effect on your social life and mental well-being. Are you a little shy or reserved and wish you found it easier to meet new people? Consider volunteering with a large or local charity that interests you. Not only are you meeting new people, you’re meeting like-minded people, people who are genuinely thankful for your help and people who can amaze you. In turn, your confidence will grow, your social skills and awareness will develop and you may even find a new sense of gratitude for the life you’re lucky enough to have.
‘No-one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of others’
There’s no question that depression, feelings of restlessness and a sense of unfulfilled existence are familiar notions for so many of us, whether we admit it or even recognise it. Have you stopped to consider what helping others can do and where it might take you? Whether you offer a friend a lift somewhere, or volunteer at a homeless shelter over Christmas turning your attention from negative thought to acts of kindness for others can be the catalyst to a happier and more fulfilled life. Regular volunteer work could give you a sense of purpose and provide a natural sense of accomplishment. Offering a lift to someone might give you the social connection you needed that day. Becoming involved in a large charity may even lead to a new career.
Whatever may come of your acts of kindness and helpfulness remember: these acts can be big or small. They can be for one person or many. They can be spontaneous or ongoing. What remains constant is that they help people, and if you help just one person to smile today, you’re helping yourself to smile too.