“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ― Winston Churchill
It’s easy to focus all your time and energy on what you have and what you want. That self-focus can increase when you’re faced with personal or professional challenges. You put your head down, think about what needs to get done, and work harder or faster to get through a rough patch. You might cut yourself off from friends and the community, saying you’ll get back to them when things take a turn for the better.
But what happens when you take the opposite approach? When you reach out to help others, even when you’re not sure precisely what you have to give? This can take the form of volunteering with a local charity or simply helping a colleague at work when you don’t need to.
A growing deluge of research shows that helping and giving can make you feel connected, grow in new ways and even live longer. Here are 10 ways helping others can also help you.
1. Helping makes you feel connected.
By engaging with other individuals and communities, you feel more connected to other people. Humans are social by nature–which means we need relationships for optimal psychological health. Connecting with others fulfills a need we all have but sometimes ignore. Beyond just the one-on-one connections, helping address a bigger issue or cause (like a charity that aims to reduce homelessness, or improve nutrition in low-income children, or provide greater access to education) can make you feel like a needed part of the world.
2. Helping can build new skills.
Over time, helping others can help you build new skill sets — especially if your activities lie outside your wheelhouse. Say you’re a bank teller and you volunteer in a completely different area: on an event planning committee for a local charity. You might already be good at managing people, but by engaging in this work you’ll build new skills in juggling competing timelines, working with vendors, and marketing.
3. Helping makes you grateful.
Helping others facing their own challenges can put yours into perspective. This is particularly true if your ‘problems’ are small by comparison. It’s easy to take things like health, shelter or family for granted until you spend time with people living in profoundly difficult situations. Use these opportunities to cultivate gratitude and inspire you to make the most of what you have.
4. Helping creates new relationships — and improves the ones you have.
Helping in the community can get you out of your usual social circles and introduce you to new people. Many of these individuals may become friends, mentors or colleagues. Besides leading to new relationships, being generous can have spillover affects that benefit your current relationships. When your helping mindset results in better interactions with your significant other, family and co-workers, everyone benefits.
5. Helping makes you live longer.
This in itself should be a major motivator! Various studies have found that the ‘warm fuzzy’ feeling we get by helping has real physiological effects — and they pay off in the long-term. In particular, those who ‘help’ consistently tend to live longer than those who don’t; and they report lower blood pressure, less depression, lower stress and greater happiness while doing it.
6. Helping can expand your identity.
Did anyone ever say ‘don’t put all your eggs in one basket’? Psychology has shown that when you focus too myopically on one dream or goal or dimension of your life, setbacks in that area can be huge blows. Having a multi-faceted identity — for instance, as a manager, a parent, a community member, a volunteer — can enrich your sense of self and give you more areas of joy. And, when setbacks happen in one area, they’re not nearly as debilitating.
7. Helping builds your reputation as a giver.
When others start to see you as someone who’s generous and who makes a contribution beyond their immediate sphere, more people come to you with requests. This is really a good thing — as many requests are opportunities in disguise. Over time, being seen as a consistent ‘helper’ can open new personal and professional doors you never could have imagined.
8. Helping boosts your self-esteem.
And really, who can’t use an extra dose confidence in these unpredictable times? By truly helping — making others better off through our interventions — you can see yourself having impact (what researchers call ‘self-efficacy’). This means you’re more likely to have faith in your ability to succeed in other situations. (Maybe now you can run that half-marathon, or apply for that promotion!) Researchers have found that confidence in and of itself can be a big predictor of success. So little wins achieved through helping others can build on each other over time to produce bigger and better results in your life.
9. Not helping can stress you out.
Not helping when you know you should can actually lead to greater stress. Researchers have used experiments to determine that being stingy drives the release of cortisol, which is a physiological sign of stress. So on top of not getting the benefits of helping, by abstaining from helping you might even further taxing your system.
10. Helping builds your resume.
From a practical standpoint, helping activities usually generate experiences and skills to put on your resume. This can directly contribute to your efforts to land other volunteer or professional roles. It also shows you’re a caring, well-rounded person who can contribute in a variety of settings.
So if you’re still debating whether it’s worth taking some time out of your busy schedule to help others, the answer is a resounding ‘yes’! It’s ok to start small so you don’t feel over committed. You can easily grow your helping over time as your situation, capacity and abilities allow. But by starting today, you can get a jump start on feeling better, living longer, growing your skills and enriching your quality of life.