A recent study of 313 adults found that people who had engaged in helping others by listening, babysitting, running an errand, or giving them a ride, had one important factor in common; they were more mindful. It seems when we are in the moment without judgment, we are more likely to help others. And in return, people who did perform one of these helping tasks experienced positive emotions such as gratitude, inspiration, hopefulness, or joy (Cameron & Fredrickson, 2015).
Not too surprising but think about a time when you did help someone, and you experienced the opposite emotion such as irritation, anger, guilt, or anxiety. My guess is that while you were performing this “helpful” task, you were judging the other person and were thinking about all the other things you could be doing.
Here are some other research findings that show mindfully helping others can benefit us in a multitude of ways:
- It makes us feel happy. A study at the National Institute of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect. Researchers also believe that helpful behavior releases endorphins in the brain, producing the positive feeling known as the “helper’s high” (Moll, et al., 2006).
- Good for our health. In a study at Johns Hopkins University people who provided social support to others had lower blood pressure than participants who didn’t suggest a direct physiological benefit to those who give of themselves (Piferi & Lawler, 2006).
- Promotes cooperation and social connection. It seems when you give, you’re more likely to receive someone along the line. Several studies have indicated that when you give your generosity is likely to be rewarded somewhere down the line. It might be from the person who was the recipient of your generosity or by someone else down the line (Simpson & Willer, 2015).
- Helping is contagious. Another study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science shows that when we are generous, it inspires others to act generously toward other people. In fact, the researchers found that altruism may spread by three degrees. That is, one generous person can influence dozens or maybe even hundreds of people many of which they do not know (Fowler & Christakis, 2010).
Here are a couple of ideas to put this research into action:
- Make it a practice to help one person every day. It can a small act or something significant. It is an easy and gratifying practice that can become part of who you are.
- Prime yourself to help. Think of someone you will encounter during the day and picture yourself helping that person in some way. It is amazing how a little mental picture can impact how you respond to the people around you.
- Draw on your talents to help. People find it easier to consistently help others when they are doing things they enjoy and are good at. Think about your skills, what you most enjoy, and then reach out to help others. This can be at home, work, or your community.
- Expressing Gratitude. Helping others is often a reward in itself. However, everyone appreciates a heart-felt message of gratitude. What might be surprising is that writing a gratitude letter and delivering it in person makes people feel significantly happier for a month.
- Align your values with your actions. It is very human to want to help others. When we allow ourselves to be of service to others, something in us grows and comes alive. Helping others puts us in touch with our purpose and connection to other people and the world.
Cameron, Daryl, Frederickson, Barbara (2015). Mindfulness facets Predict Helping Behavior and Distinct Helping-Related Emotions. Journal of Mindfulness, 6 (5), 1200- 1218.
Fowler, James H., & Christakis, Nicholas (2010). Cooperative Behavior Cascade in Human Social Networks. PNAS 107(12), 5334-5338.
Moll, Jorge, Krueger, Frank, Zahn, Roland, Pardini, Matteo, De Oliveira-Souza, Ricardo, & Grafman, Jordan. Human fronto-mesolimbic networks guide decisions about charitable donation. PNAS 103(42), 15623-15628.
Pilfer, Rachel L., Lawler, Kathleen A (2006). Social support and ambulatory blood pressure: An examination of both receiving and giving. Internal Journal of Psychophysiology. 62(2), 328-336.
Simpson, B., & Willer, R. (2015). Beyond altruism: Sociological foundations of cooperation and prosocial behavior. Annual Review of Sociology, 41, 43-63.
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