When C.S. Lewis said that “the only safe rule is to give more than we can spare” and that our charities should “pinch or hamper us,” he was referring to financial donations. Admittedly, this can tighten our financial comfort, but what about everyday acts of charity to our neighbors?
Some say it’s impossible to commit a truly “selfless” act. It’s an age-old paradox: no matter how much you give of yourself, you still receive a feeling of joy and peace in return.
Check out these three core benefits to helping others around you:
- Give Life Purpose
Looking beyond our own concerns helps us to forget them. The irony is, the more help you provide others, the more fulfillment you enjoy. Beyond the admittedly trite nature of that sentiment is real scientific data: Dr. Daryl Van Tongeren led a study in which 400 group participants were asked 1) how frequently they engaged in altruistic activities and 2) how they felt after those activities were completed. Sure enough, the more frequently altruistic group members enjoyed more purpose in their lives.
Long story short: if you’re feeling discouraged about your own circumstances in life, lift up others around you. Their lives will be improved, and you will feel happier.
- Provide a Sense of Community
Remember the different levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs? Aside from the basics like food and shelter is the need to feel love and acceptance. We are sustained by that sense of belonging.
Humans naturally flock together in large groups. Tribes, villages, towns, cities—all these manifest a desire for community. So why not sweeten the deal? Volunteer at a food bank a few times a month. Have a friendly conversation with the barista across the counter. Hold the door open for an elderly woman. Make a toddler laugh in the grocery line. By enriching the lives of your community and making them feel welcome, you’ll increase the happiness quota wherever you go.
- Reduce Stress
Beyond the obvious emotional benefits of helping others, there are physical perks as well. According to a study at the Yale University School of Medicine, there is a direct correlation between physiological stress levels and volunteer work. Participants in the study who actively helped others felt their negative emotions decrease and were more immune to everyday stresses.
Want to relax? Help someone else.
It seems counterintuitive. In our age of “me-time” and self-care, burying your own concerns and focusing on others seems like it won’t solve your happiness deficit. But it does. Looking beyond your own problems and lifting up others around you gives your life purpose, helps you feel like you belong to something bigger than yourself, and bolsters your resistance to stress. Give it a try and see for yourself.