Most people see helping others as a necessary but undesirable fact of community life. We help others because we need help and because it’s the right thing to do. We don’t help others because the process itself fosters our own well-being. Helping others may involve big things or little things. Giving rides, babysitting children, moving furniture, and sharing time and knowledge. In this article, I want to push back against the idea that there is no self-interest involved. I present you with four established benefits that may forever change the way you view helping others.
Benefit #1: Helping Others Distracts From Our Problems
Self-forgetfulness is one of life’s greatest gifts. Think of the great lengths people will go to in order to forget about their problems. People resort to drugs, music, work, relationships, and spirituality. In fact, any activity that fixes our attention on something other than ourselves is powerful, for better or worse. Helping others is one of those activities. It fosters a sense of empathy and connection by reminding us that other people have problems. And it gives us the satisfaction of being a part of the solution.
Self-forgetfulness is one of life’s greatest gifts.
Benefit #2: Helping Others Creates a Sense of Purpose
Having value in community is a deep psychological need. Helping others presupposes that an individual has something to offer. And that the individual is connected to something larger than himself whose sustainability in some way depends on that individual. This is the essence of purpose. Purpose increases fighting spirit because it provides a reason to move forward greater than oneself. People with no sense of value are prone to feeling their existence is meaningless and get depressed easily. Helping others is the best way to reinforce the opposite thought pattern.
Benefit #3: Helping Others Creates a Logic of Reciprocity
Reciprocity is the foundation of every human relationship. The one exception is a parent-son relationship. Children will never be able to compensate their parents for the sacrifices they made. They are only expected to show love and respect. Every other relationship is based on give and take. The more reciprocal balance present, the healthier the relationship. When we help others when they need it, the expectation is that we will receive help when we need it. This system works because people have unique abilities and advantages. It’s the same motivation of international trade. You do what you do best. I do what I do best. And we’ll come together in a mutually beneficial way. This is the essence of community, without which human beings cannot thrive.
Benefit #4: Helping Others Brings Joy
When we help others, they usually show appreciation. Receiving appreciation from others feels good. I know people involved in community service who live for sincere appreciation. On a much smaller scale, I feel good every time my grandparents thank me for helping them out with their technology issues. Seeing them relieved and content naturally brings me joy because I genuinely care about them. This is the gift of giving.
In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’Acts 20:35
People need boundaries to pursue their goals and be their authentic selves. We can’t and shouldn’t help everyone with everything all of the time. But we can and should help some people with some things some of the time. In those times, being mindful of the benefits can make the process that much more enjoyable.