Help Me Help You

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Julia Greenblatt

Julia Greenblatt

On any given day, there are going to be things that bring us down. A common response to being sad is to indulge in something – eating, shopping, television; we think that helping ourselves will cheer ourselves up.  True, helping ourselves will put us in a better mood, but the best way to help ourselves is actually to help others. A study at the University of the South in Sewanee, Tennessee demonstrated just how much helping others could cheer us up.

The study included 473 volunteers, and aimed to prove that kindness is more beneficial to our well being than a shopping spree could ever be. The volunteers were broken up into four groups and underwent six weeks of psychological assessment. One group was asked to complete acts of kindness to improve the world, such as picking up litter. The second group performed acts of kindness for other people, such as helping a little sibling with their homework. The third group did something for themselves, such as taking a day off from work. Lastly, the fourth group continued their normal routine. The results demonstrated that people who engage in random acts of kindness feel much happier than people who only help themselves or do nothing at all.  This is because performing acts of kindness helps to release dopamine, a feel-good neurotransmitter in the brain. Dopamine gives us a psychological boostor a “helper’s high” as it is sometimes referred to.

Dr. Katherine Nelson, the lead author of the study, elaborated on this phenomenon by telling the Huffington Post: “I think this is important because people are often encouraged to ‘treat themselves’ as a way to feel good, yet our findings suggest that the best way to feel happy is to treat someone else instead.” Nelson was able to prove that helping others is a great way to help ourselves.

Of course it is nice to treat ourselves once in awhile. We could all use some “retail therapy” or binge watching TV every so often. But self-indulgence is not the way to cheer ourselves up. Performing acts of kindness is the perfect cure for the blues – yet another reason why we should all be kind to one another.

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