Helping others, helping ourselves.
By: Kathryn Jellings, Director, 3SC
12th February 2024
“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
f you want happiness for a lifetime, help people.”
Whilst simplistic, the proverb is highly accurate, the action of helping others has been scientifically proven to enrich the helper as well. Much of the research on resilience — which is our ability to bounce back from adversity — has shown that having a sense of purpose, and giving support to others, has a significant, positive impact on our well-being.
Even the act of giving advice has been shown to be more beneficial than receiving it. In a series of studies of 2,274 people, researchers from the University of Pennsylvania and the University of Chicago found that after middle-school students mentored younger students about studying, they ended up spending more time on their own homework. Overweight people who counselled others on weight loss were more motivated to lose weight themselves.
Volunteering or helping others can release feel-good chemicals on the brain. Dopamine, serotonin, and oxytocin are all essential components for us to feel happy. Any activity that increases the production of these neurochemicals will cause a boost in mood.
The release of these chemicals have lots of other benefits too. Serotonin is connected to sleep, digestion, learning, memory and appetite. Dopamine is connected to motivation and pleasure. Oxytocin “the cuddle hormone” has a powerful effect on the brain and the body. When oxytocin begins to flow, blood pressure decreases, bonding increases, social fears are reduced and trust and empathy are enhanced. Oxytocin is also an anti-inflammatory and reduces pain and enhances healing.
Helping others needn’t be a big deal. Here are some simple ideas you can try:
- Offer help to a colleague in work
- Donate old clothes or household items to charity
- Put together a care kit for someone (Ideas for the homeless here)
- Complement a friend
- Donate to a food bank
- Be a good listener
- Do some gardening for a neighbour
- Help your kids/family with a task
- Invite someone for lunch/coffee
- Go litter picking in your area
If you are thinking about volunteering or being a regular helper, its often beneficial if we find ways to help that we enjoy. This is why it’s worth exploring ways to give that are in line with our strengths, boost our sense of social connection and feel worthwhile and meaningful to us.
- If you enjoy cooking? – volunteer with a community kitchen
- Are you a keen reader? – start a book group
- Regularly go to gigs/sports events – become a ’Gig Buddy’ or ‘Sports Buddy’
Helping can be small scale or a big commitment. Both are equally valid and whatever you do will be beneficial. And remember – if someone offers to help you, say YES! As you will be helping them too!