Have you bought a stranger coffee lately? How about just offered someone a smile who is obviously having a bad day? Do you volunteer every chance you get? Research shows that doing good for others is undeniably good for you, too.
One of the easiest ways to feel better yourself, is to help others. Here’s a summary of one study on the subject of helping others:
- Volunteering helps people to feel less stressed about their own problems.
- Helping others makes us feel better physically, mentally, and emotionally.
- People who reach out to others tend to feel more connected and satisfied with their lives.
Other studies suggest that when you help another person, you get a “helper’s high,” which is the cascade of reward-like chemicals in your brain that tell you do to an action that makes you feel good again. It’s a funny thing that giving someone a small gift, even if it’s just a gift of kindness can boost our self-esteem, and create meaningful human connection.
Altruism is also considered a “deep brain structure”. Meaning, it was developed in our brain as an innate part of our survival. We’re social animals at the heart of the matter, and we need to connect to others to feel that all is right with the world. It’s no wonder that giving to others helps us to feel maintain that all-important connection.
Giving to others also helps to boost our serotonin levels, which in turn, helps us to sleep better, digest our food better, and maintain an elevated mood.
Another neurochemical that is boosted by helping others is oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Although oxytocin is linked to sexual arousal, it is also a bonding chemical among humans, allowing us to feel more empathetic towards others and their needs, as compared to staying hyper focused on our own.
Finally, due to mirror neurons, special neurons in our brain that reflect actions from others, and cause us to subconsciously repeat them ourselves, simply offering someone a smile creates a positive feedback loop which ensures more smiling – among everyone! A single smile triggers mirror neurons, and a small act of kindness that elicits joy or excitement will do the same.
The best part is that your version of volunteerism, altruism, or doing “good” for others doesn’t have to be anything monumentally big. A small act, done consistently goes a long way to contribute to your own health, happiness, and peace of mind. In fact, making giving a habit is better for you than not!
Consider the following small acts of kindness to create good for everyone – yourself included:
- Hold a door for someone who is carrying a bunch of packages.
- Let someone cut in front of you on the road while driving, and smile about it.
- Compliment someone sincerely, for no reason.
- Share nice things you hear about someone, with that person.
- Send a few postcards to sick kids who feel uplifted by getting mail.
- When you shop at thousands of different retailers online you can use iGive to designate a portion of the sale to a charity.
- Offer a microloan to someone across the globe or in your own backyard who is trying to start a business, send their kids to school, or even grow organic vegetables, but just needs a little financial boost.
- Want to make some people really happy while getting some extra “shed” time in as a musician, comedian, or actor? Check out org and organize a visit to a local seniors home, hospital or children’s center to donate a free performance.
If you just pay attention, there are an infinite number of ways to give to others. What’s your favorite?