So the Dalai Lama had it right when he said: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”.
‘Helpers high’ was first coined in 1979 after psychologists found that charity volunteers rated themselves happier than people who didn’t volunteer.
We all know that doing something like helping an elderly lady across the road, or doing a friend a favour, can make us feel good- it’s been the foundations of morality and religion for thousands of years- but how exactly does it work?
According to Hamilton, when a person does something to help another, the brain first produces a hormone called dopamine, which is associated with positive thinking. Secondly, it produces endogenous opoids like endorphins- nature’s happy pills. Thirdly, it produces Oxytocin, the bonding hormone. This helps to dilate arteries and eases the flow of blood around the body, helping to prevent high blood pressure, stroke and heart attacks.
Apart from the personal benefits of helping others, your actions will often have a positive impact on another person’s life- even if only to cheer them up for a few moments. Acts of kindness don’t always have to be big and often don’t require a lot of sacrifice on your behalf. Simply look out for the little things, like a person struggling with shopping bags, or someone who’s dropped something.
There is plenty of academic debate regarding the nature of altruism (pure selflessness), and whether it really exists. The truth is- it doesn’t matter. As the Dalai Lama said- compassion can help you and it can help others. So why not try it?
Depression is becoming more and more common in the UK. If you would like to tackle your unhappiness or depression, you may benefit from visiting a counsellor. To find out more about how a counsellor could help, please visit our Depression factsheet.
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