People around us are one of the most important things in our lives. From an evolutionary perspective, helping others makes perfect sense.
We’re social creatures, who are at our bests when we’re interconnected and are helping others. That is our biggest advantage and that is how we got to where we are today.
As a result, evolution has instilled in us a need to belong to make sure that we continue to interact with the group we’re a part of. When we’re interconnected and part of a group, we actually feel far happier.
On the flip side, this need is so strong that those of us who feel lonely actually end up suffering serious health issues.
Hardwired to give
One of the best ways for us to take advantage of this evolutionary disposition is by helping others. Research has demonstrated that this triggers the same centers in the brain as food and sex.
Research even indicates that when one person gives something to another person, the person who enjoys that exchange the most is not the person who received the gift, but the person who gave it.
Of course, like so many things in life, there is a catch. Not all giving is the same. When we are helping others, some people make us happier. Others just make us angry, as we feel that we’re being taken advantage of.
For that reason, as this time article explains, to help you get the most enjoyment from your helping others, consider these two things:
1. Give what you’re passionate about
The big advantage of giving something that you care about deeply is that you get the double whammy of doing something that you care deeply about and the enjoyment of the gratitude the other person shows you when you give it.
For that reason, instead of heading out of the door after reading this article and giving money to whatever charity you run into first, it’s better to find out where you would like to give.
Do you care about helping people in your community, helping people with an illness that has affected your family, or helping somebody overcome a learning disability you are familiar with?
Or perhaps you care deeply about graphical design. Then the thing to give is that knowledge. Find people who want to become better at what you do and then help them do so. That can give you a huge deal of satisfaction.
2. Give your time
Did you notice something interesting about the above ideas I proposed? Yeah, that’s right. None of them are money. That’s because when we give money it feels more transactional. Giving time, on the other hand, is far more personal.
What’s more, when you give your time then it isn’t just you giving, it’s also you learning, growing and seeing the looks on the faces of other people as their lives become better as a result of your actions. Being the target of gratitude feels absolutely fantastic.
The health benefits
There are a lot of ways to help others, but one of the best studied is probably volunteering. This has some pretty pronounced effects. “People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness,” Mark Snyder, a psychologist and head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota, told US news “All of these things go up as their feelings of social connectedness goes up, which in reality, it does. It also improves their health and even their longevity.”
It can even be incredibly useful for people who are at risk themselves. For example, teenagers who volunteer are less likely to become pregnant, have better grades, more positive attitudes towards education as well as a better self-concept. And these effects stick around, with people who volunteer as children having a better quality of life.
A great way to bond
That’s why it’s such a good idea for parents to take their children to participate in helping others. Even if the children don’t necessarily want to. Why? Because it turns out that when we start volunteering as children, we end up doing more of it when we’re adults – with all the benefits thereof.
It also offers a great opportunity to bond with your child – particularly if they come to realize how good volunteering can make them feel. Of course, this will work a lot better if you can find a volunteering activity that your child actually enjoys partaking in.
For that reason, don’t be afraid to find some things that you believe will be interesting to them and also sound engaging to you and then trying out a few until you find the right fit. In order to make this work, don’t immediately make a long-term commitment and go on trial runs instead.
Then, afterward discuss together whether you liked it or not. This will give your child a feeling of control and will make them far more likely to be positively disposed towards the activity you’re undertaking.
It’s never too late
Of course, if you don’t have children, or if you’re not getting started as a child, that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t help. If you see the opportunity, then you should definitely give it a try.
Just remember that if you want to get the best out of your attempts to help others, you should do two things.
1. Don’t allow yourself to be guilt-tripped into helping others. Friends and family will often think they’re doing you a favor, but as you might well end up feeling resentful and therefore won’t keep up with the activity, that’s not necessarily true. Don’t help because you feel you must. Help because you feel you want to.
2. Be proactive. Of course, if you’re not going to allow yourself to be guilt-tripped, then if you’re going to help you’ll need to be proactive and actually find something that you want to give your time to. Otherwise, the result will be that you won’t do anything.
So, go out, do something. The benefits will be incredible for the people you help, the community you live in and for your own happiness as well. Even better, all these things together create a positive feedback loop.
The better your community, the more you’ll enjoy living there and the happier you’ll be. Similarly, the happier you are, the more useful your help will be to others, as being around happy people makes us happy as well.