The Helper’s High

“Three things in human life are important: the first is to be kind; the second is to be kind; and the third is to be kind.”  Henry James

It had been a crap day.  A crap week even.  Oh who was I kidding? It had been a full on crap year and this day was just the perfect example of all of the accumulated crappiness.  The world was gray, like it gets after the snow has melted but Spring has yet to sprung.  I was unemployed and broke, grieving the recent loss of my beloved golden retriever, Wyatt.  I had no sense of direction and my life purpose seemed to be simply to survive the constant onslaught of shit that the universe seemed to be throwing my way.  To say I was depressed would likely be an understatement.

I loaded groceries into the trunk of my car then climbed in, ready to drive home and begin another day of blah.  Checking my mirrors I noticed an elderly gentleman gingerly pushing his cart across my path.  He leaned heavily on the cart and I could see that he had a cane slung over the handle.  I waited patiently as he shuffled along behind the car, each step measured and cautious.

Poor old guy.  Sympathy began to elbow self pity out of the way and I felt myself soften.  Bette Davis said that old age is no place for sissies and watching this gentleman I could see exactly what she meant by that.  It sure put some perspective on my own pity party.

As he cleared my path I began to back out.  Turning toward him I saw that he had lost hold of his cart.  He was bent over, holding on to the bumper of his truck as his fully laden shopping cart, with the cane hung over the handle, slowly but inexorably rolled away from him.  He tried to follow but I could see his step falter and he quickly gave up, reaching back and clinging to the vehicle. Tears of frustration shone in his rheumy eyes.

Without a thought I parked my car, jumped out and chased the runaway cart, wrangling it and running it back to the gentleman at his truck.  Handing him his cane I said a cheerful “good morning” and asked if he would like his groceries in the back or the front of the truck.  His relief was greater than his pride and he graciously accepted my offer.   I happily helped him to unload the cart into the bed of the truck. After running the buggy back to its corral I returned his quarter to him.

He grabbed my hand as I gave him the coin.  “Thank you”.  He stared into my eyes and I saw that he was profoundly grateful for this small act of assistance I had offered.  I smiled back at him.  He introduced himself, formally, and I did the same.  We chatted for a moment or two then parted ways.  When I drove past and waved I could see that he was grinning from ear to ear.  I was too.

Damn that felt good!  More of this, please… I said it out loud, a prayer.  Amazed that one small moment of my day could turn things in such a wonderful direction, I virtually danced my way through the chores of the morning, riding the wave of happiness that had been created when I chose to reach out and help someone who needed it.

I didn’t know it at the time but I was experiencing something known as “helper’s high”.  It’s a real thing that occurs to people after performing selfless acts of kindness.  There are even scientific studies surrounding altruism and how it effects our physiology and some have very interesting results.

For instance, did you know that when a person performs an act of kindness, that person strengthens their own immune system and increases the production of serotonin in their brain?  This is the chemical that occurs naturally to make us feel really good.  Referred to as the “happy hormone”, serotonin has powerful influence over mood and has been shown to decrease the symptoms of depression.  Booyah!

And the person who receives the kindness, they get the very same health benefits.  Their immune systems kick it up a notch and their happy hormones start to dance.

But even more interesting than all of that is what happens to someone who witnesses an act of kindness.  Simply by being a bystander to an act of kindness, the one observing has the exact same physiological responses as the giver and the receiver.  Holy ripple effects, batman!

It’s as if we are hardwired to help each other out.

Committing random acts of kindness has become my hobby since that beautiful gray day.  I do it because it is helpful and kind.  I do it to show compassion.  I do it because I love how it makes me feel.  That last reason may seem selfish, but believe me it is the very best kind of selfish there is.

Some random acts of kindness you may like to try….

1.  Pay for the person behind you at the drive thru

2.  Plug an expired parking meter

3.  Drop off the books you have finished at the local  woman’s shelter or retirement home

4.  Volunteer

5.  Smile at strangers.  It is amazing to watch how they transform

6.  Say please, thank you and mind your manners… just like Mama taught you

7.  Go walk the dogs at the local animal shelter

8.  Help out a neighbor with their lawn mowing, or snow shoveling

9.  Let them merge

10. Tell someone why you appreciate them.  Write it in a letter that they can keep forever

I try to be creative with my random acts of kindness and I find that keeping it as anonymous as possible makes it even more fun.  I don’t need glory or  gratitude.  The joy of helping is reward enough.  No sense fighting our biology.  Bring on the helper’s high, baby.

And if you feel like getting some awesome serotonin flowing, watch this.

 

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