We all know that helping others feels good. The new research on how and why it feels so good demonstrates that when people make the choice to contribute to charity, the midpoint of their brain “lights up” on fMRI scans. The pleasure chemical dopamine is released in that part of the brain that keeps track of rewards . Also, oxytocin is produced which is the hormone that reduces stress, speeds healing, and increases the sense of connection with others. So, in addition to research that connection to others appears to have both psychological and physical benefits, what are some important pointers to help you get the most out of helping? (in ways other than giving money!!)
Up Close and Personal– hands on activities seem to be the most beneficial to the helper.
Make it Frequent – try to make it a regular activity. A good rule of thumb- look at volunteering like other healthy habits- any is better than none!
Make it Voluntary, If You Can – Having to be a caregiver is a difficult helping role. If you can help from a sense of free choice rather than obligation or necessity, the benefits of helping increase. So helping strangers as well as family and friends is important.
Share the Care– working with an organization can bring a sense of teamwork and regularity.
Avoid Unhelpful Helping – Instead of rescuing, try empowering those you are trying to help. Help them maintain as much independence as possible to make decisions for themselves. Sometimes, knowing when to back away and let others make a mistake is best. Beware of forced cheerfulness which does not allow the other person to express their feelings.
Adopt a Healthy Helping Attitude If your goal is to “fix” and the focus is on the outcome, your will set yourself up for a “helper’s low” rather than a “helper’s high”. Concentrate on your commitment to help, rather than the outcome. Celebrate the big or small achievements.
Practice Random Acts of Kindness – Look for little opportunities to give without expecting anything in return. Every day presents us with a chance to give back- a smile, a note to someone, a genuine thank you.
How can you begin to find one way to Help Others? The “high” you feel can only benefit you and others.