The helper’s high – discovering the emotional benefits of giving.
My dad was recently admitted to a care home. He has suffered a series of strokes over the last few years, and has developed dementia. Eventually he has got to the point where my stepmum can’t look after him at home, and so reluctantly they took the decision that he should move into residential care.
I made a pact with my stepmum that I would visit dad once a week, and so I go every Tuesday, and sit with him for an hour or so. I can’t honestly say that a care home is the most exciting place to be spending my time each week – sometimes I have an interesting conversation with dad, sometimes it’s the same conversation as last week, and sometimes it’s off at a complte tangent.
But I have to say these visits are changing me. For one hour a week, I have to slow down, stop worrying about my own stuff, and focus on my dad and his life. It’s really good for me.
The look on dad’s face when I come in each week (thankfully he hasn’t lost the ability to recognise people) is lovely. He always thanks me profusely for coming. My stepmum is really appreciative too, as she knows that is one day when she doesn’t have to worry about him so much. And I’ve also found from going there, that I’ve started to become more tolerant of people with disabilities and those who are less able and fortunate in society. I’m paying attention to the homeless and helping them now and again. And all of this is making me feel really good inside – I had no idea that it could. They call this the Helper’s High.
What is the Helper’s High?
There’s been a lot of sociological and psychological research to demonstrate the emotional benefits of giving, to the giver as well as the recipient.
Indeed, it can be particularly helpful at times of emotional stress, as it shifts the focus from our internal world to the external. See, when the the focus is internal, we often ruminate and get lost in the windmills of our mind which can exacerbate the negative feelings we feel. Whereas, when the focus shifts to the external world we are able to gain some perspective and clarity. Indeed, the most successful men and the most powerful women in the world cite the power to shift their emotional state to one of negative to positive as one of the core reasons for their success.
Helping someone isn’t a panacea for all ills, but when we help another person we tend to feel like we are able to make a difference which puts us in an empowered emotional state.
Indeed, the altruism one experiences from giving to another has been proven to have a similar physiological effect to a runner’s high, known as the “helper’s high”, and a variety of studies have reported people feeling more strong, energetic, and happy as a result – in fact on a physiological level it has been proven that people get an endorphin rush similar to the endorphin rush experienced from those running a marathon.
Here are three ways you can reap the emotional rewards of the helper’s high by giving to others in everyday situations:
“Giving” isn’t restricted to acts of service such as sweeping your neighbour’s drive, or giving money to someone in need – it can be as simple as giving someone a heartfelt compliment.
Today, we are all so busy that our interactions with people we come into contact with on a daily basis are often transactional to the point that we lose sight of the person behind the interaction, for instance, at the grocery store. In taking a genuine interest in the person you are providing a powerful gift; you are connecting and validating that person’s existence – this might sound very ‘new age’ but consider how it must feel to work on a checkout, for instance, and have people come and go like a conveyor belt, treating you almost like a robot…
Similarly, the power of remembering someone’s name can be a fantastic way to build rapport – and, again, it gives the receiver a sense of feeling like they matter. In a society where so many people suffer with low self-esteem, helping a person to feel like they matter and acknowledging their existence can be a very powerful gift to offer.
We are all emotional creatures that crave recognition and the best reward we can receive is often an emotional reward that makes us feel appreciated, respected and valued.
Appreciating your partner for the little things they do such as cooking dinner or picking up the dry cleaning will elevates the other person’s self-esteem and feeling of happiness; and this is the way to building a happy relationship as we all want to feel valued and respected; rather than taken for granted and unappreciated. Showing appreciation to your children when they do good or try hard is also super important.
Acts of Service
The act of giving is not limited to physical items as gifts; indeed, acts of service such as coming home to find your lawn has been mowed by a neighbour or your housemate has cooked you dinner or made you a lovely smoothie because they know you have a hard day ahead of you – these are all ways that you can achieve a helper’s high without it costing a fortune.
The time I spend with dad each week, makes me pause and consider and be grateful for my health, my family and all the good fortune that I have. On the drive home I can really take some time to think things through and sometimes I realise that my worries are just not so important after all.
This is a great lesson to teach children too, particularly teenagers. Sometimes children can get so wound up in theiir own stress that they can’t see the rest of the world out there. Teaching children to help others and to give compliments, appreciation and the occasional act of service is good for them and for the people they serve
What could you do for somebody else today? Have you felt the benefit of the helper’s high? I’d love to hear your comments on this.