By helping others, we help ourselves.
We’ve all heard that said; however, is this old truism actually correct? From my experience of working as a hypnotherapist, it most certainly is. Here’s how we meet our own emotional needs by being pro-social.
What does it mean to be pro-social?
As the term suggests, a pro-social behaviour is an action that benefits others, either socially or individually. If you’re acting in a pro-social manner, you’re acting altruistically, perhaps by volunteering, donating to charity or going that extra mile to help someone out.
Pro-social behaviour also involves conforming to accepted social norms. For example, driving carefully, paying the bills and being polite to others are all pro-social behaviours.
Acting pro-socially meets our own needs, as well as benefitting the wider community. But surely, doesn’t benefitting from altruism miss the point? Not at all.
The science behind pro-social behaviour
We know that a lot of our thoughts and behaviours have developed for survival reasons. But how does this fit in with the actions of the volunteer lifeboat crew, leaping up from their cosy sofas to risk their lives at sea to rescue strangers? They’re not even paid. Surely this goes against our instincts? Not necessarily, as we’re also programmed to help our tribe survive. In the case of the brave crew, the notion of tribe is pretty wide – anyone else who comes into contact with the sea or coast.
People who risk their own lives to help others can be motivated by altruism, which actually sets off our pleasure receptors: helping others in extreme situations feels good. However, you don’t need to go to extreme lengths to help others in order to feel better about yourself. On the whole, those who volunteer at least weekly are reported to be up to 16% happier (yes, this is measurable) than those who don’t.
Even small acts of kindness make both parties feel good. Hold a door open for someone, make the effort to compliment the check out assistant on their fabulous fingernails. Try and make at least one small gesture like this every day, and see how it makes you feel.
How pro-social acts can benefit us
There are several ways that helping others also improves our own emotional wellbeing. Here are some of the key benefits of being pro-social:
- Emotional regulation. By comforting a friend who’s having a hard time, we also enhance our ability to deal with our own emotions. (This is a definite plus of training in hypnotherapy!)
- That warm glow of happiness from helping others reinforces our feeling of connectedness with other humans – an essential psychological need
- Altruistic acts such as volunteering have an impact on feelings of depression, helping us stay mentally healthier
- Working with others towards a common goal builds friendships and a sense of belonging to a community
- Helping activates your mesolimbic function, which is the part of the brain that deals with reward. The feel-good emotions this creates makes you want to help others again – good for you, and for the wider community
With a simple compliment or an offer to carry someone’s shopping, you’ve made another person smile. That’s bound to rub off on you! And when it does, you’ll feel empowered that you (yes, you), made a genuine difference to someone’s day.
Imagine that tenfold, every working day – and if that sounds good, have a serious think about training to become a hypnotherapist.