Human beings are funny creatures. Many species are into social behaviour, but I don’t know whether animals experience the same rush that humans do when they’ve helped someone. It’s a cheap high, yet people tend to discount it as a source of happiness.
When we think about what we need to be happy, service to others is not necessarily at the top of our list. We think of possessions (surely if we have that giant flat-screen TV we will be happy, even if we are paying for it for years to come), or achievements and accolades.
Being the best at what we do, winning games and competitions, being admired and looked up to – surely people who have those are bound to be happy? Egged on by advertising and trashy media, we ignore all evidence to the contrary and continue to strive for fame and fortune, in our search for a joyful life.
There is actually a much simpler and easier way to be happy than to win a world championship or a million dollars. It consists of two simple words – be helpful.
The Internet is full of stories of depressed and traumatised people who found healing in helping others. Stepping out of one’s own claustrophobic tunnel of darkness and despair to consider the needs of another can break the downward spiral, maybe because of that rush that we feel when someone is grateful to us. It’s not the be-all and end-all, of course, but it’s got to be better for us than drugs.
What does it mean to be helpful? If you have a wide and varied network of friends, making connections can be very helpful. If you put time and energy into promoting the work of others, some of that good karma will rub off on your own enterprises, and you’ll feel good at the same time.
There’s no question that shovelling your elderly neighbour’s path is much more rewarding than merely shovelling your own. Add the glow of being helpful to the satisfaction of a job well done and the health benefits of vigorous exercise and you’ve got yourself a remarkably potent anti-depressant.
Interestingly, while donating money to a good cause is useful and often necessary, it doesn’t have quite the same beneficial effect on the donor. While Winnipeg Harvest may benefit more from your donated money than from your inexpert packing of boxes, the opposite is true of you.
What do you think? Is true happiness to be found in being helpful?