Serving Others is Self-Serving…and That’s a Good Thing

In 2016, a study was published in Psychosomatic Medicine: Journal of Biobehavioral Medicine that found that giving had greater benefits than receiving (yes, The Office fans; that’s what she said). The results from participants in the study showed that giving (and not receiving) reduced stress related activities in the brain and reduced vulnerability for negative psychosocial outcomes. Put simply, the study showed that when you help others you’re also helping yourself.

Outside the context of the study and from my own research as well as through lived experience, I’ve found that helping others is a great way to boost self-esteem, self-confidence, and self-worth. Helping others is a useful way to create connectivity, to find purpose in your life, and if you choose, to make meaning of the mundane or of something difficult or traumatic.

It almost seems counterintuitive to help someone else when you need help but even the seemingly smallest action can have a massive positive affect on the person being helped as well as on your state of mind. By getting our of your own head (temporarily) and shifting focus away from your difficulty or problem you’re facing, you’re distracting yourself from the potential of a self-inflicted negative feedback loop. You do something nice for someone and that feels good but you also gain a little perspective as well (the mountain you thought you were dealing with is actually an obnoxious mole hill).
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There are lots of ways you can help people or groups of people. One overlooked method of help is to show another person compassion—for their mistakes, their slights (whether intentional or unintentional) toward you, for their uniqueness and vulnerability that might not line up with your own values or preferences. Compassion brings understanding, which then brings about connectivity (with varying degrees of elasticity, of course).

Another overlooked form of helping others is actually practicing self-love and self-care. By loving yourself, treating yourself well, and setting healthy boundaries, you’re ensuring that when you decide to begin or resume helping others you’re doing so as close to peak performance as possible.

By looking after others, you’re actually looking after your mental health and nutrition.

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