Developing happiness helping others

Helping Others Develops Happiness and Meaning


When you want to help others as a way of increasing your own happiness, it is important to understand your motivation as something altruistic or spiritual and a manner of expressing an important value in your life. It is not as effective to help others because it is a selfish way to make yourself feel better.

Most spiritual or wisdom traditions include something like the Golden Rule as a core value and we have incorporated the saying. “It is better to give than to receive” into our everyday language. Helping others and being kind can do a lot to add more happiness and meaning to our lives. Helping does these things:

  • makes us feel good or brightens our day
  • distracts us from our problems and allows us to relieve the stresses of others due to seeing our advantages
  • offers a way to feel more connected to others
  • increases self esteem and confidence by allowing us to view ourselves as compassionate and useful
  • leads others to appreciate us
  • provides the possibility of others being reciprocal when we need help
  • benefits society as the ripples of altruism spread out
  • develops a stronger avenue to the meaning of life


Acts of kindness toward individuals can be small things like letting someone go in front of you in line at the grocery store, paying someone’s toll charges behind you on the toll road, giving someone you care about a massage. You might buy groceries for someone, take a friend to dinner, or leave a $100 bill in a card for someone who is out of work.

When you are able, you might take a younger relative into your home, baby sit for the young couple down the street so they can have a date night, or pay for someone’s college education.

Find acts of kindness that are meaningful for you. In the same way, search for organizations which match your interests and find ways to give or volunteer. It is important to identify interests and ways of helping others that fit your goals and values. You can be of service and you can improve your community through civic action.


Before you commit to regularly doing acts of kindness, or a day each week doing several acts of helping others, or on-going work with a charitable organization, look at the obstacles to your volunteering or the reasons you would quit.  Solve the time issue, lack of interest, how to get started, social anxiety, lack of social skills, and anything else that might sabotage a magnificent way of adding meaning to your life and increasing your happiness. We know from many positive psychology researchers that people who help others get happier.


After you have dealt with your resistance, establish a consistent plan of helping others. Implement a routine as a way of making it part of your lifestyle. I have a young 19-year-old client who, as a way of heading off narcissism and dealing with depression, is conscious of being kind and connecting with each individual with whom she comes in contact daily. She is enjoying giving kindness to others and it fills her life right now, after having to leave home at the request of her parents.

A friend of mine takes every Tuesday as the day she devotes to helping others. She cooks for the homeless, she washes someone’s car for them, she takes neighborhood elders to doctor appointments, and any other meaningful act she can think to do or stumbles across in her day.

We all know people who serve on non-profit Boards, serve on committees, buy tables or tickets, provide entertainment, host events, provide foster homes for children or animals, work at the hospital gift shop one day a week, design mailers for their organization or type the newsletter. Volunteering adds pleasure, engagement and meaning if you find the perfect fit for yourself.

I have an executive client who awards college scholarships to students at his alma mater and who loves participating in annual department events in his honor. You might not be able to do big projects like building a department on a campus or a bell tower at your nephews’ school, but you can take one day a week to devote to helping others.

Sonja Lyubomirsky who wrote The How of Happiness suggests that her research shows that one day a week derives more fulfillment than spreading it out over the week. Immersing yourself in giving seems to provide you with more happiness, satisfaction, and meaning.


At years end when you evaluate your accomplishments and design your next year, remember to assess your helping and modify it for any improvements you can make for helping others, volunteering or giving. Incorporate helping others a part of your lifestyle as important as the activities you do with family and friends. You are increasing your happiness and well being by improving your community.

It is wonderful to give back to those who give to you. It makes for beautiful relationships and builds up a savings account of love and friendship. I have also been partial to helping others who were not the ones who helped me. And I love “secret acts of kindness!”


As a young girl, I read Magnificent Obsession a 1929 novel by Lloyd C. Douglas and saw both the 1935 and 1954 film versions. I loved the philosophy of the book, based on a passage in the Gospel of Mathew (Chapter 6: 1-4), the idea that good deeds received are not to be paid back to the doer of the deed, but to a person in need in the future.

This concept provided a key plot element in the denouement of a prize winning play by Menander, Dyskolos, in Athens in 317 BC. The philosophy has come through the centuries. Ben Franklin rediscovered and wrote about the concept and Ralph Waldo Emerson followed up with the idea in Compensation. Since 1916 when Lily Hardy Hammond wrote, “You don’t pay love back; you pay it forward” we have had literature, film, the law, and sociology referring to “pay it forward” or “generalized reciprocity.” Many universities have done research and begun foundations and societies on the concept. In 2006, Oprah gave 300 audience guests $1000 and a camcorder and asked them to record their acts of kindness, to give the money to charitable organizations or someone who needed it who was not a relative, and do it within one week.

We have “Secret Santas” in our work places at Christmas time. You could become a “Secret Angel” in the fabric of your life. I would love to hear from you about the ways you have helped others. If it is secret stuff, you will have to tell the angels or leave a message without name or caller ID. Sorry, technology does not allow the average person to send an email or text. Nevertheless, let me know the non-secret acts of kindness.

I encourage you to find inspiration for your helping others, volunteering and giving. Happy helping!

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