How Aspiring to Help Others Keeps Us Happy and Healthy

How Aspiring to Help Others Keeps Us Happy and Healthy

via Psychology Today by Christopher Bergland

God’s wisdom teaches me: When I help others, I’m really helping myself. And if we all could spread a little sunshine, all could lend a helping hand. We’d all be a little closer to the promised land.” —”Spread a Little Sunshine” sung by Fastrada in Pippin (music & lyrics by Stephen Schwartz)

What’s your gut reaction to Fastrada professing that “when I help others, I’m really helping myself” in this Pippin song? Does aspiring to help others within your community seem unethical or cunning if your primary motivation for lending a hand is ultimately to help yourself?

As a kid growing up in the 1970s, my family went to see Pippin on Broadway; we also had an 8-track of the original cast recording in the car and listened to this soundtrack nonstop. At the time, as someone who went to church on Sundays and aspired to be a genuine “do-gooder,” hearing Fastrada sing about ‘helping others to help herself’ seemed kind of selfish and didn’t align with my moral compass.

But over the years, singing along to “Spread a Little Sunshine” prompted the realization that altruistic behaviors aren’t always selfless.

Inevitably, our willingness to help others is going to be motivated by varying degrees of self-interest. And I realize now that embracing the “give-to-get” aspects of altruism doesn’t negate the prosocial, win-win benefits of helping others. (See “The Evolutionary Biology of Altruism.”)

Nonetheless, I’ve never felt 100% comfortable admitting that my altruistic motivations are often driven by the warm glow and positive feelings I get from giving to others. So-called “random acts of kindness”—like putting twenty bucks in the tip cup after I get a to-go order from my favorite, family-owned burrito place—are often token gestures that make the giver and receiver both feel good.

Anecdotally, based on life experience, I know that helping others in my community is usually self-serving to a degree. And that’s OK. For example, my habit of leaving big tips at local restaurants isn’t purely motivated by a desire to help the community-based front line workers on the receiving end; tipping people in the service industry generously makes me feel better on multiple levels.

Now, after reading about a new study (Bradshaw et al., 2020) published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that investigated how “the social breadth of aspiration profiles predicts well-being,” I’m planning to give back more substantially in 2021. Maybe learning more about this study will inspire you to do the same…

… keep reading the full & original article HERE