Few of us are immune to the frustrations and weariness of daily life—tense relationships, health troubles, conflicts at work, constantly worrying about money, etc. However, don’t be surprised if you are depressed or stressed out and some researchers suggest something different from what you are used to so far – medication or therapy. Researchers are rediscovering value in the ancient wisdom of being kind to others and caring for others. You may be asked to follow a simple time tested principle that may be part of both the prevention and the cure: “Help Others to Help Yourself.”
Once when I was in a very bad shape, someone advised me: “If you can’t help yourself, help others.” I could not understand, but followed the advise and it appeared to work. There is already plenty of research to suggest that people who are helpful to others are more likely to be happy and satisfied with their lives—and consequently, less likely to be depressed or stressed. Could helping others be the key to weathering unpredictable storms of life? Probably Yes.
Feel Good Brain Chemicals
Numerous studies have found that happy people are more helpful. Those who’ve just found sudden help are more likely to help someone else in need. Researchers are also looking for biochemical explanation for the positive emotions associated with doing good.
In a study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, participants’ brains were monitored by MRI scans while they made decisions about donating part of their research payment to charitable organizations. When participants chose to donate money, the brain’s mesolimbic system was activated – part of the brain that is activated in response to positive stimuli, sex, or monetary rewards, etc. Choosing to donate also activated the brain’s sub-genual area, the part of the brain that produces feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin that promotes social bonding.
Why Doing Good Works
Since depression, anxiety, and stress involve a high degree of self-centered-ness focusing on the needs of others diverts that thinking. It is also a common experience that receiving compassion, benevolence, and kindness help us come out of the negative emotions. One of the best ways to overcome stress is to do something to help others.
Even better, feeling good and doing good can combine to create a positive feedback loop, where doing good helps us to feel good and feeling good encourages us to further help people. This is generally observed with meditators. Since meditation is basically a cleansing activity, a mind cleared of negative emotions is automatically more tuned to exhibit positive emotions. If you don’t believe me ask any Vipassana meditator who practices loving kindness.
Help Others to Help Yourself
Listen More and Talk Less: Merely listening mindfully and sympathetically often does wonders. It makes people feel heard, cared for, and loved. Don’t just listen to the spoken words, but also be attentive to what they want to and are trying to convey. Many people can’t tell clearly what they have in mind – help them with words. Look for lonely or neglected people (there are plenty) around you and let them unload their minds.
Put on a Smiling Face: Smile is contagious and it puts other people at ease. Develop the habit if first putting on a cordial smile and then talk. Smile creates an atmosphere of cordiality and trust where everyone can talk openly.
Donate. You don’t need a lot of money to do that – your mental volition is more important that the quantum of the amount. Start by giving away clothes you are unlikely to use. Buy tickets of charity shows and look for other opportunities where you can contribute. The act of donation is ideal to reduce greed and temptations; hence, it is considered a wholesome trait on the path of spirituality. Donate some “time” and read for the blinds!
Help people: Find time to visit people who are sick, offer a ride to someone who does not own a car, lend a needed tool, feed pets for neighbors on vacation, pass on information someone is looking for.
Volunteer. Search for volunteer opportunity in your area and get involved. Doing volunteer service even few hours a week can be rewarding. It has been shown to reduce stress or depression.
There is another good reason why you should be a good person, for humanity’s sake. I can’t remember who said or did not say it. But this is the most pointed and straightforward reason why you should be good.
“Be good. There will be one less rascal in the world.”
If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion. – Dalai Lama
A part of kindness consists in loving people more than they deserve. – Joseph Joubert
Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see. – Mark Twain
There is no need for temples, no need for complicated philosophies. My brain and my heart are my temples; my philosophy is kindness. – Dalai Lama
There is overwhelming evidence that the higher the level of self-esteem, the more likely one will be to treat others with respect, kindness and generosity. – Nathaniel Branden
If you haven’t any charity in the heart, you have the worst kind of heart trouble. – Jesse Jackson
What this world needs is a new kind of army – the army of kind people. – Cleveland Amory
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