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Why it brings out the best version of us.
Supporting others is often seen as a nice thing to do. Optional but not necessary. According to many psychologists, however, helping other people has major health benefits. It reinforces our overall sense of relatedness to others, which fulfills our most basic psychological needs. So helping others isn’t optional. It’s essential for our overall well-being.
Since its origins, Buddhism too, sees supporting others as an irreplaceable component of real happiness. Here are a few perspectives on why helping others is also helping ourselves.
1. It gives us strength and courage.
We’ve all feel good after we give a friend a call to let them know we’ve got their back, or encourage a family member who’s going through it. Psychologists have named this feeling the “warm glow.”
Buddhism sees this desire to see others become happy as the highest, most noble aspect of the human heart. While some attitudes, like complaint, can make us feel small and helpless, the desire to help people gives us access to our courage and wisdom. When we support other people, we feel inspired to take on our own agonizing problems.
Buddhism sees this desire to see others become happy as the highest, most noble aspect of the human heart.
Buddhist teacher Daisaku Ikeda shares:
When we look after and care for others—that is, help others draw forth their life force—our own life force increases. When we help people expand their state of life, our state of life also expands.
In a recent Columbia University study, researchers set up an online space where participants anonymously shared their personal stories and problems.
Participants were rated by their helpfulness in providing empathy and words of encouragement to each other. The study found that the most positive emotional and cognitive benefits were experienced by the participants who gave the help rather than those who just received it. For example, those who helped others navigate their negative emotions became better equipped to navigate their own emotions.
Simply put, helping others brings out the best part of ourselves.
2. It puts things in perspective.
Feelings of loneliness or helplessness is often linked to an increased focus on the self. However, when we open our heart to support another person, we zoom out of our own problems and see the wider world. Such activity is strongly linked with decreasing depression and increasing overall well-being.
It also gives us a new way of looking at our problems and increases our determination to solve them. Simply wanting money or status sometimes doesn’t give us the deep motivation we need to achieve our dreams. But if our motivation is “I want to achieve this to inspire other people,” we can find the extra strength and courage to push through when things get tough.
In this great podcast, human rights lawyer Tanya Henderson shares why she went to law school: She wanted to inspire her two young sons. She knew if she didn’t pursue her dreams, she couldn’t inspire her sons to one day pursue their dreams. Several years after graduating from law school, she founded Mina’s List, a nonprofit organization that trains women in Afghanistan to run for parliament and win. To date, they’ve helped eight women win seats in the Afghani Parliament.
So let’s show up for others. It’s how we can bring out our most courageous, our happiest self.