Many people regard helping others as a necessary if undesirable duty of community life. We help others because it’s the right thing to do, or because we want to avoid offending them. We rarely think of helping others as a process that fosters our own well-being. Helping others may involve big things or little things, tangible and intangible alike. E.g., giving rides, babysitting, pet-sitting, moving furniture, sharing knowledge, lending a listening ear, and assisting with schoolwork, yardwork and technology.
Boundaries create space to pursue our own goals and live authentic lives. We can’t and shouldn’t help everyone, with everything, all of the time. However, we can and should help some people, with some things, some of the time. In those moments, being mindful of our own interests as interdependent beings can make the process that much more enjoyable–or at least a little less exhausting.
In this article, I present four time-tested benefits of helping others that may change how we think about the topic. In addition to a genuine desire to see other people’s needs met, these can serve as extra motivation to use our talents and skills to add value to the lives of those around us.
Benefit #1: Helping Others Puts Our Problems In Perspective
The happiest moments of life tend to be the moments we are most self-forgetful. For example, spending time with friends and family, playing or watching a sport, listening to or performing music, or relaxing on a beach or in nature. On the other hand, the unhappiest moments of life tend to be the moments we are most self-conscious (anxiety, depression, physical pain, etc.). Activities that promote self-forgetfulness in a wholesome manner are good for the soul, and helping others is one of those activities. In a word, when I’m helping others with their issues, I tend to think of my own less.
We become more self-forgetful when we get deeply involved in the lives of people we care about.The Joy Of Self-Forgetfulness
Benefit #2: Helping Others Creates a Sense of Purpose
Feeling like a valued member of a community has a healthful effect on the human psyche. Being in a position to help others presupposes that we have something to offer. It implies that we are connected to something larger than ourselves whose sustainability in some way depends on us–just as ours, in turn, depends on it. Using our time, talent, and abilities to help others is the essence of purpose. Having a purpose, or “a why,” increases emotional resilience. There is only so much we will do for ourselves; purpose, however, gives us a reason to be that is greater than ourselves. People who do not feel like a valued member of a community are prone to depression and feeling that their life is meaningless. Helping others reinforces the opposite belief.
Benefit #3: Helping Others Creates a Logic of Reciprocity
Reciprocity is the bedrock of virtually every human relationship (with parent-child being the most notable exception). Human relationships–business, friendship, family, romantic, and otherwise–are based on give and take. The more reciprocity present, the healthier the relationship will be. When we help others when they need it, the expectation is that they will help us when we need it. In addition, people who have been helped are often eager to return the favor. This system works because people have unique talents and abilities based on things like genetics, age, experience, and training. Reality is that we can accomplish far more when we cooperate than when we resolve to do everything ourselves.
Social psychologists call it The Law of Reciprocity – and it basically says that when someone does something nice for you, you will have a deep-rooted psychological urge to do something nice in return.Reboot Authentic on The Law Of Reciprocity
There are times when others will never be able to pay us back. We don’t need what they have, and they don’t have what we need. Or we may never see them again (e.g. “The Parable of the Good Samaritan”). Times like these present the greatest opportunity for growth. Routinely weighing our actions against those of others can be exhausting–rather than just doing good as an expression of who we are. In my experience, when we expect to receive the least tangible benefits in return for a good deed, the intangible benefits tend to be the greatest.. which leads me to my next point.
Benefit #4: Helping Others Brings Joy
When we help others, they usually show appreciation. Receiving appreciation from others feels good. I know people involved in community and public service who feed off the appreciation they receive on a daily basis. On a much smaller scale, I feel good, for example, every time my grandparents thank me for helping them out with their technology issues. Seeing them relieved and content naturally brings me joy because I genuinely care about them. Whether I ever receive anything in return, I can go to sleep feeling good about myself knowing that I added value to someone’s life. And the gratitude that typically gets expressed can have a lasting effect long after the deed is done.
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’Acts 20:35
For more, see the complete archive of articles on integrity.