Category Archives: Helping others

How a few well chosen words can help make someone’s day.

Perhaps we sometimes need to receive a gift before we know how to give one?

On my way to a meeting the other day, with loads on my mind, I bumped into one of my neighbours.

In exchanging a few quick words, she gave me a boost which kept me smiling for much longer than it took her to say what she did.


It’s easy to forget how much of a difference you can make to someone’s day with one or two carefully chosen sentences, so why not set out to spread a little happiness yourself by doing so today?

If you know someone’s not returning messages and you know they’re down, keep trying.

Someone told me of his unsuccessful attempts to reach a business contact by phone.

Despite leaving frequent messages, this other person wasn’t calling back.


The caller was pretty confident he’d done nothing to cause offence, so he wondered aloud if it might mean that this man could have been suffering from the dreaded blues, and was therefore shutting himself away.

Having been there and done this myself, I had to agree it was a possibility.

It’s easy to get to a point where you’ve had as much as you can take from the world around you, so you shut yourself away.

The trouble is, it can be easy for friends to feel slighted if you appear to be avoiding them.

Well you are, aren’t you?

If you were the one with the low mood, what would you want someone else to do in such circumstances?

Well if they had the persistence, I’d want them to keep calling.

I’d hope they wouldn’t accuse me of being difficult.

I’d love them to be patient with me.

Maybe you’d feel the same?

If so, it might be worth remembering this when someone doesn’t return your calls or messages.

Try not to storm off in a huff.

Just keep leaving those messages.

They could well be in a difficult place, and your patience will almost certainly mean a lot to them.

When the world feels selfish, counter-attack by behaving totally the opposite.

It sometimes seems as though we live in a selfish world.

People allow shop doors to close behind them, without looking to see if there’s someone following. They don’t make way for others when they’re walking along a footpath. They carry on loud conversations on their phones right in your ear.

And these are just the minor irritations of everyday life. I’m sure you can think of much worse examples yourself.

So what’s the answer? Do you fight fire with fire? Do you become twice as selfish yourself?

Well I think (and hope) not.


There’s a lot of evidence that altruism can play a big part in overall mental wellbeing. In a neat twist, it turns out that doing good can actually make you feel good. And I suspect the reverse is equally true. Those who behave selfishly end up with lower moods.

I also hope that just occasionally our good manners can rub off on those who have lower standards when it comes to considerateness.

But even if you can’t make a dramatic change to your world, you can at least improve your own day by thinking about others.

Why not give it a try today?

Share the load when you help someone, don’t carry it all yourself. If it’s too heavy for them, it will be too heavy for you.

Moods are contagious.

Sharing time with someone who’s ‘up’ can rub off on you, giving you a lift.

Unfortunately however, being around miserable people can mean you end up being dragged down yourself.


Some might suggest that you should steer clear of those who are low, and whilst there may be a small degree of sense in this in terms of those you have no connection with, most of us have little choice over whether we are with our friends and family.

Indeed it would be a pretty uncaring and cold world if you simply cut off anyone who wasn’t in a great place.

What to do therefore? Well I think you can sympathise with people without taking on their problems themselves. If you think about this, professionals such as therapists have to function like this, otherwise they’d be gibbering wrecks at the end of the working day.

On a path where many may be carrying too much weight, you’ll not be of much use by offering to take their loads from them. You’d soon collapse yourself.

Better to show sympathy and offer encouragement.

Which, if the original load was on your shoulders rather than theirs, is probably what you’d want too.

Give yourself a real boost by performing a random act of kindness for a stranger.

Experts in the field of positive psychology tell us that we can get as much out of giving kindness as we do out of being shown it by others.

An ongoing campaign exhorts people to ‘practice random acts of kindness’ and there’s a lot to be said for this principle.

Actually it can be fun going through your day finding odd and unexpected ways to be kind to other people.


For instance I always loved the idea of paying a toll on a bridge twice, telling the official that you were covering the charge for the car behind you too. This random person would then be waved through with a ‘the guy in front got it for you’.

But it can be as simple as holding a door open for someone, or (on a train) offering them your newspaper after you’ve read it, or picking up litter in the street and putting it in a bin.

It doesn’t have to be much, but to feel good it ought to be as spontaneous as possible.

Why not have a think about this today, then see where you might be able to casually drop an act of kindness into someone’s day?

It’ll feel good. Promise.

Doing someone a good turn may be an old-fashioned idea, but it can really make you feel good.

These days they’re called Cub Scouts, but when I was a kid I belonged to the Wolf Cubs before I graduated to the Boy Scouts. In fact I was a member of both organisations right on the cusp of name changes (“rebranding”, to use today’s vernacular) – just as the ‘Wolf’ and the ‘Boy’ were dropped, in an effort to bring the Scout Association kicking and screaming into the Sixties.

Yes, I really am that old.

I loved being a Cub and I LOVED being a Scout, and just the other day I was thinking about my old Cub promise. It began with ‘I promise to do my best,’ then segued into ‘to do a good turn for somebody every day’, which I still think is an admirable goal.

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The phrase ‘a good turn’ might seem slightly quaint and out-of-date, but the idea of doing someone a favour is something I trust will never go out of fashion. Doing things for others is a sure-fire way to boost your own wellbeing, and of course it also helps to build a better world: a more rewarding place for us both to live in.

As a Cub, I was told to be on the lookout for old ladies who wanted to cross the road (what a funny old world I grew up in) but in case there’s a shortage of shy female octogenarian street-crossers in your neighbourhood, may I suggest that you go a little out of your way to find other people to help during the course of the next 24 hours?

So if the person behind you in the supermarket has just a couple of items, why not let them go ahead of you? If you still have time on your car park ticket as you’re ready to leave, how about handing it on to someone who’s just driven in? Finished your newspaper on the bus or train? Offer it to a neighbour.

The more unexpected your help and the more out-of-the blue it seems, the greater the impact it can have. And the greater the impact, the bigger the kick it will give you.

So seek out those chances to do a good turn today, and – oh yes – do your best, too.

What can you still have the same amount of, even after you’ve given it away?

If a shepherd gives away three of his fifty sheep, he has a smaller flock than he began with.

When a greengrocer gives away half his apples as free samples, there’s less in his shop than there was when he opened that morning.

Should a millionaire give away half her fortune, her bank account would be less flush than it was.

It goes without saying that there are some things in life – sheep, apples, money for example – whose quantity diminishes as you distribute them.

I give to you, then you have some of what I had, while I now have less.


But of course there are other things that don’t leave us worse off when we give them away.

I’ve typed this message, for instance, which is now on your computer or phone.

But it’s also still on my mine.

If you recorded a version of The Yellow Rose of Texas on your ukulele and sent me an MP3 (thanks – just what I always wanted) we’d both have copies.

So, thank goodness some would say, the idea of depletion through giving-away falls apart in the digital world.

It’s a principle, after all, which is part of what underpins the information revolution, but as a matter of fact it’s nothing new.

Consider my Exhibit H: Help.

If you give me your help, do you somehow have less of it to give?

Well, not really.

Help is a mysterious resource which can be given, or not, in a seemingly infinite range of amounts – without taking anything away from us.

Giving lots of help may of course tire us – even overload us at times.

Broadly, however, giving your help doesn’t cost you.

In fact it’s even better than that, as it may well leave your emotional bank balance better off than it was.

Helping others can make you feel good in and of itself, and what’s not to like about that?

I imagine there won’t be too many opportunities to give away sheep today.

So why not think about giving away some of your help?

How are you feeling, in many ways actually?

I imagine you might answer in several different ways if I asked you how you feel, right now.

You could interpret my question as being about your temperature.

Do you feel hot, warm or cold?

Alternatively, you might believe I was enquiring about your energy level.

Do you feel exhausted or raring to go?

woman in rain

There again, and more likely, your answer may relate to your current emotional state.

Are you happy, sad, angry, scared etc?

The truth is, at any one time you feel a mixture of physiological and emotional sensations, and the overall way in which you feel is almost certain to be based on a combination of factors.

For instance, if you were reading this on your phone at the bus-stop in the rain, you’d probably be feeling dejected, cold and worn-out.

It’s good to talk about feelings, even better when we do so in context.

If all I know is that you’re dejected, I can only guess at why this might be.

But if you also tell me about the cold, worn-out, bus-stop stuff, well I can empathise with you.

I can imagine what it must be like for you.

Perhaps I can help you make sense of it and keep things in perspective.

If someone is (really) interested in how you feel, try to explain.

It can be harder than it seems, but there’s big value in doing so.

Similarly, if you truly want to know how someone else is feeling, you may need to do some gentle interrogation to burrow beneath a simple ‘not bad’.

Finally, if by some bizarre quirk of random mind-reading I’ve happened to pick on your precise current circumstances and you actually are waiting for the number 37 in the rain, sorry. I truly am.

I’m sure there’ll be one along in a minute.

Experience the Helper’s High: Have your say on my book’s cover.

Ready to have your say immediately? Click here to vote!

An reviewer of The Healing Power of Doing Good, a 1992 book written by social campaigner Allan Luks, said he decided to put the book’s claims to the test.

So what were those claims?

Broadly the book reported on a study of over 3,000 volunteers, showing that when they helped others, they also benefited, leading to an effect now known as the “Helper’s High”.

In fact, Luks’s book introduced both the concept and the term “Helper’s High”.

The Amazon reviewer (Frank) reported that he started teaching English to someone who didn’t already speak the language – for just two hours a week – and in only a couple of weeks noticed a change in his own sense of well-being.

He said he left the tutoring sessions on a kind of high, then later felt more calm and focused.

It’s worth remembering that helping someone else can be a fantastic way to give yourself a boost when you need it.

Perhaps you’d like to experience this right now?


With humble apologies for the remarkably self-serving nature of this experiment, it’s actually me who’d like your help.

You see, the wonders of modern printing technology mean we have the luxury of being able to make design decisions about my book’s cover with less than three weeks until it’s published, so I’d love your vote on which design you prefer.

Please click on the link below where you’ll see a few different concepts.

Click here to vote!

Then have your say by voting, and also feel very free to add your thoughts in the Comments section below.

Who knows, lending a hand might even give you a modest helper’s high yourself.

Can you find five ways to lend a hand today?

Type ‘helping others’ into Google Images, and you’ll see a lot of photos of hands: one hand reaching for another, one person pulling another up a steep hillside, a young hand placed tenderly on an old.

It’s no surprise, perhaps, because we often refer to helping someone in terms of lending them a hand.


When you do things for people, you also help yourself.

In fact, one study has shown that those who gave assistance to others felt stronger and more energetic after doing so – as well as becoming calmer, less depressed and gaining a higher sense of self-esteem.

In fact, in psychology it’s a well-known phenomenon, popularly known as the ‘helper’s high’.

But am I suggesting that you should only lend a hand to someone because of the good it will do you?

Of course not, I think virtually everyone who helps others does so out of a genuine desire to support a fellow human being, or perhaps to create a better social environment.

But the fact that you may feel better when you’ve helped someone is a rather handy side-effect.

A real win-win, if you like.

So why not think about what you can do for someone today?

Whether or not you’re busy, there are nearly always opportunities to be at least a little generous with your time.

At times, when my place is in dire need of housework but I can’t summon up the energy to carry out the total blitz it really needs, I’ll promise myself that I’ll perform five tasks, then stop.

Enough will be enough.

In the same way, then, maybe your mission today can be to deliver five small chunks of help to other people?

Simple actions are fine: holding doors open, helping to lift things – that kind of thing.

More involved ones are great too: baking someone an apple pie, tidying their garden.

So see if you can find five today, then think about your mood after you’ve done so.

Reflections? Please post them on the Moodnudges blog:

See you next time,


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