Do you know anybody who has been greatly affected by the many events of 2020, especially the pandemic? Are you aware of the reports of how many people lost their jobs? While the pandemic may not have impacted our own lives too much, many other people cannot say the same. One thing is for certain; we do not take for granted the little things in life as we once did. With that said, what would happen if, instead of looking out for our own well-being, we started looking out for others? As a kid, I thought that to make someone feel better, you should give them a gift, a material item. However, material things do not have the same impact that other forms of “gifts” might. This month, we are not only going to talk about how you can give back to your community and those important people in your lives, but also the positive impact it can have on your mental state.
Positive Impact of Giving Back
Giving back to your community and providing support to those in need can have a positive impact not only for yourself, but for the individual as well. There was a study conducted in 2013 about the “science of happiness”. In this study, individuals were told to write about someone they were grateful for and then call that person and read what they wrote. The simple act of writing down why they were grateful increased the participant’s happiness by only 5 percent, but those who called the subject of their writing to express their gratitude had their happiness increase by 20 percent. There was no data to see how this impacted the person on the other end of the phone, but if it helps increase your own happiness by 20 percent, imagine what it can do for the other person.
Psychologist Barbara Fredrickson has done a lot of research on the impact of positive emotions. An increase in positive emotions can create new ways of thinking, processing and acting for the self. Positive emotions open up our creative channels to think of alternative solutions, whereas more negative emotions simplify our processing into more of a fight or flight response: do I stay and fight or do I run away? Not only do positive emotions create new thinking patterns, but Fredrickson also states that “the psychological broadening sparked by one positive emotion can increase an individual’s receptiveness to subsequent pleasant or meaningful events, increasing the odds that the individual will find positive meaning in these subsequent events and experience additional positive emotions” (Fredrickson 2000). The more you can increase the number of positive emotions you experience, the more likely you will be able to take a more positive, optimistic perspective when things may not go your way.
Making Others Feel Good
One quality that I have always possessed is wanting to please others and make them happy. The more common way that I have done this is by giving gifts and providing humor, which is something I excel at. The rush of positive emotions that I feel from making somebody laugh, helping somebody succeed at a task or making their life a little bit easier is unmatched. At times, I witness the shadow side of this quality, and sometimes I forget about making myself feel good, but nevertheless, it excites me to impact someone else’s life positively.
However, as I have gained more life experiences and have gone through a Sport Psychology program, I have learned other ways to achieve this goal of pleasing others and making others happy. Providing humor will never go away, but I have incorporated a lot more expression of gratitude, making small donations to charity, and providing a simple helping hand. The power of expressing gratitude is unmatched. Studies show that expressing gratitude can reduce the risk of depression, anxiety, substance abuse, lowers stress and increases self-esteem. Not only do I experience these benefits, but the person I'm expressing my gratitude towards experiences similar benefits as well. I have also begun to donate to charity more in the last couple of months. They aren't huge donations, but no amount is too little. Due to this pandemic, instead of going out to restaurants, I order from GrubHub, which gives you the option of rounding up your order total and donating that money to a food kitchen. I do not know where this money goes or who gets it, but I do know that that extra $0.58 might help a family have dinner one night. Finally, the act of offering your services can have a tremendous benefit. I have noticed that even if the individual does not accept your help, there is a general appreciation for the offer. I used to ask my boss every day at work an hour before I clocked out, “what can I do to help you leave on time today?” Some days he had something, other days, he did not, but the fact that I asked made him feel a sense of comfort that others were looking out for his well-being. It can be difficult to know who is struggling, feeling overwhelmed or needs help on a specific task. But the simple offer of “How can I help you today?” can let somebody know that you are there for them.
Ways to Make a Difference
One act you can do to brighten somebody's day is through a letter of admiration. How this works is you first pick somebody in your life who you greatly appreciate. This can be a family member, a friend or even the barista at your local coffee shop. Your first task with this activity is to write a letter about why you admire this person. What is it that you admire about them, how have they impacted your life and what makes this person special are some questions to consider when writing this letter. This one doesn't have to be full sentences, as it can be bullet points because the next step after completing this letter is to pick up the phone and call that person. Let them know the things that you wrote. Let them know your admiration for them, how they have impacted your life, and express your appreciation for them. Not only will you experience positive emotions, but this individual will also have a similar experience, and the connection between the two of you will become that much deeper.
Another action to take is to recognize someone for their hard work that they have been putting in, or maybe you know somebody who has overcome a recent challenge. This does not require you to sit down and write a letter to somebody, but it is similar because you are acknowledging something special in another individual. For example, let’s say you have a friend who has increased their amount of exercise in hopes of losing weight. It may be difficult for them to notice any change, so provide them with words of admiration and recognition for their hard work. Speaking from experience, hearing such words can provide a motivational aspect to keep pushing and work even harder. Recognizing somebody for their hard work, or overcoming a challenge, can provide both parties a rush of positive emotions.
Finally, take a trip to your local donation or charity foundation. Whether it is donating clothes, toys, household necessities or even your time, giving back to your community and others in need cannot only provide you with a sense of purpose, but you are providing another individual or family to feel a little less stress for a brief moment. There are organizations such as Angel Tree, Toys for Tots and The Red Cross that are always accepting donations that can provide comfort to other families. This pandemic has put many individuals and families in dire situations. Any form of giving back, whether big or small, can have a tremendous impact on our society as a whole.
At the end of the day, we are all in this together. We live on the same planet, we breathe the same air, we all experience similar setbacks and challenges, so let's raise each other up to make this world a better place to live. One way you can do that is by finding ways to give back or express your appreciation towards others. Not only will you experience a rush of positive emotions or a clear mental state, but imagine how you are impacting the life of somebody else. If you are experiencing these positive emotions, how do you think the other person might be feeling? You have the ability to change the trajectory of someone else’s life. You never know how your words can positively impact somebody. Let's take advantage of this, let's lift each other up, and let’s help each other succeed and live life to the fullest.
Fredrickson, B. (2000). Cultivating positive emotions to optimize health and wellbeing. Prevention and Treatment, 3.
By: Joey Velez, MA, MBA