Helping people is something that’s just a part of who I am. I guess it works well seeing as I’m a happiness engineer by day. In large part, I’ve learned to love to help because I personally have been helped by so many in my life to get where I am today. Whether it’s the stranger giving me directions or family members helping pay for college, I’m the first to say I’m only here because I was helped and it’s the least I can do to pay it forward. However, I started reading a book recently where the author went off on a tangent about how she felt guilty because she felt good for helping someone. Reading that resonates with me as growing up volunteering this was often discussed as something to be aware of (feeling good for helping). Now that I’m older, I realize it’s absurd to feel guilty when you help someone but it seems like in parts of our culture feeling good for helping is something that detracts from the help you gave. In essence, feeling good makes the act of helping about you and not about the person you helped. Feeling good about helping someone else is a natural byproduct though and is actually more about the bond you created with someone you helped. It’s an evolutionary modification to help us bond more (read about things like oxytocin and you’ll understand a bit more). This isn’t something to be ashamed of or guilty about. Shame turns you off of helping. It turns you away from reaching out.
Shame, blame, disrespect, betrayal, and the withholding of affection damage the roots from which love grows. Love can only survive these injuries if they are acknowledged, healed and rare.” ― Brené Brown
I can’t think of anything more limiting to help others than guilt and shame. We, as a society, don’t help each other enough and perpetuating a belief that one should feel guilty for feeling good about helping someone else is absurd. It’s a beautiful and wonderful thing to be able to help someone as it is to be helped. It’s in those moments when we realize how much we can possible impact someone that we realize how much we impact those around us and how much more mindful we need to be. Helping someone gives you the perspective of life beyond you. On the flip side, it’s when we’re helped that we realize most that we aren’t alone. Imagine if someone helped you then felt guilty about it. I know I would be the first to tell them not to be. Rather than creating one more reason to not help someone, lean into feeling good and help more. Either way, helping and being helped bring you outside of yourself mentally and emotionally. They show you that you aren’t alone and that there are those around you that you impact. Help and help some more. Feel good about it and realize it’s related to the bond you created and the moment you had with the other person.
In a social psychology class I took, we had a debate about altruism and what a true altruistic act is. We grappled with whether altruism could truly exist and whether feeling good for helping someone took away from an act of kindness. While there wasn’t a consensus, it did bring me to thinking about the following questions:
- What was the last kind, going-out-of-the-way thing you did for someone? Do you leave yourself open for these moments?
- What was the last kind, going-out-of-the-way thing someone did for you? Do you leave yourself open for these moments?
Think on them. If you have answers, I’d love to hear ’em in the comments. Side note: Altruism is the central focus of a book called “Survival of the Nicest: How Altruism Made Us Human and Why It Pays to Get Along”. I highly recommend it if you’re interested in diving into a broader view of why we actually do feel good when we help others and how that has helped us survive.