A Surprising Way to Build Resilience: Help Someone Else

3 min read

The current global environment continually tests our capacity to exhibit resilience. Given these constant demands, it may seem reasonable to assume that people may be more inclined, and better served, to spend more time protecting their own needs and looking to take care of themselves first and foremost.

However, intriguing research suggests the exact opposite. In a study led by Dr. Elizabeth Raposa along with two of her colleagues from the Yale University School of Medicine, the researchers found that making time to help other people also brings tremendous benefit to ourselves.

The researchers used a smartphone app to prompt participants to record stressful events as well as the small acts of kindness they exhibited, such as holding the door or elevator for someone. The results revealed that individuals who helped others more in a day reported more positive emotion on those days. Conversely, when these individuals reported fewer helping behaviors towards others, they had a more negative emotional reaction to stress.

Even more interesting, when people reported that they engaged in more helping behaviors than usual, it also sheltered them more from the negative effects of stress without any decrease in positive emotion.

Perhaps the most intriguing element of the study was that this relationship was found regardless of the baseline level of altruism exhibited by the person. This relationship did not hold only for people who naturally looked for opportunities to give to others. It even existed for people who were not inclined to be helpers in the first place. The key was the extent to which their helping behavior did or did not exceed their average.

Here are some ideas to capitalize on the power of helping others to help ourselves:

  • Work. Each day, look for one helpful thing you can do for a work colleague. Ask them to meet for a virtual or in-person coffee. Share a piece of information. Write a complimentary note or pass along a joke. These small, yet powerful actions can make a world of difference to someone.
  • Family. What is something thoughtful you can do for someone in your immediate or extended family? Perhaps you can call an older relative/parent? Maybe spend some extra time playing or speaking with your children? Identify small actions that deliver high meaning.
  • Friends. Who is someone who would benefit from you reaching out to them right now? Maybe their Facebook posts are hinting at some challenging times. Maybe it’s a friend who you lost touch with. Make the intention to connect with a friend.

While we may not feel like we have the energy to help those around us, evidence suggests this can be a restorative and resilience-enhancing approach. Making time for helping others is the best way to make time for helping ourselves.

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