Do Good to Feel Good
Sometimes I get so busy, it’s hard for me to focus on anyone but myself and the people directly connected with my tasks. I cruise happily within the security of my structured life…or so I think.
I am also prone to push myself too hard. This usually results in some sort of internal revolt that manifests in all of the signs of distress. Then I know I need to slow down and find a way to release some of the stress that’s been building up.
One of the most unexpected and fast-acting cures to my stress came when a friend asked if I could stop at her house in the middle of the day. Her schedule was crazy and she couldn’t make it home at lunch to spend some time with her two dogs who were unaccustomed to being alone.
My knee-jerk mental reaction was, “I don’t have time either!” Nevertheless, I agreed to the request.
I’m so glad I did. Spending some time with the dogs who greeted me with exuberance and then happily frolicked in the backyard was like a healing balm to my soul. I found myself relaxing, being in the present moment, and just taking in the sight of two happy dogs.
The icing on the cake was the gratitude of my friend who would have felt awful at the thought of her dogs lying around all day wondering why they had been abandoned.
Knowing I had alleviated that burden for her made me feel great. Going back to my normal schedule, I felt recharged and more engaged in the project at hand.
Why a Good Deed is Good for You
When you’re under stress, it’s easy to throw up your hands and declare, “I’m already doing everything I can!” What you focus on, you attract. If you can’t escape your own drama, what happens? The stress keeps on building.
One of the best ways to lower your own stress is to do a good deed for someone else – it’s the gift that keeps on giving. You help someone out and they benefit – and you take the focus off your own problems and lower your stress levels – a win-win!
The Science Behind the “Helper’s High”
As it turns out, that feeling you get when you do a good deed isn’t just in your head – “helper’s high” has actually been documented in numerous studies. Two large studies discovered that older adults who volunteered lived longer than those who did not volunteer. Still another study found a 44% reduction in early death in those who volunteered a lot.
Stephen G. Post, Director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University explains, “To rid yourself of negative emotional states, you need to push them aside with positive emotional states, and the simplest way to do that is to just go out and lend a helping hand to somebody.”
And, Post asserts, altruistic emotions appear to gain authority over the human stress response. Several small studies even link emotions like love and empathy with a decreased stress response and stronger immunity.
Pay it Forward…
In a Huff Post article, Priya Advani recalls a time in her life when she relied on the random kindness of others to help her. “I was incredibly touched by how everyone was so helpful, without any hesitation,” she shares.
Now, Advani relishes the opportunity to pay it forward – to help others through acts of kindness. “There were times when people would offer assistance, without me even asking,” recalls Advani.
University of California professor Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D says that people who participate in acts of kindness become happier as time goes on. She has studied happiness for more than 20 years, and says that doing kind deeds for others helps you feel better as a person.
10 Good Deeds You Can Do Today
You don’t have to be a millionaire to make a difference in the world. In fact, doing a good deed doesn’t have to be about money at all. Here are some easy ideas to inspire you:
- Add some change to someone’s parking meter that might be running up.
- Take a few minutes out of your day to talk to an elderly neighbor.
- Share a meal with someone who isn’t able to cook or just doesn’t have the time.
- Donate your gently used household items and/or clothing to your favorite charity.
- Bring more beauty into the world by planting a flower, tree, or even a seed.
- Give someone a compliment – whether it’s someone you know well or a complete stranger.
- Give the gift of your time by volunteering – at a non-profit, at your kid’s school…wherever you’re called to!
- Hold the door open, help carry a package, or otherwise offer to help someone.
- Offer to watch your friend or relative’s kids for a day so they can get out and enjoy life.
- Anonymously pick up someone’s tab at the grocery store, coffee shop, or local restaurant.
Remember, sometimes the seemingly smallest gesture can have the largest impact in someone’s life – and your own. So, what good deeds will you be doing today?!
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