By Jodie Gould
Carry out a random act of kindness, with no expectation of reward, safe in the knowledge that one day someone might do the same for you. —Princess Diana
Countless religions teach us that helping others is not only a worthy pursuit but a moral obligation. But donating either your time (the best) or your money (also great, especially if given willingly and not just as a tax break) is like a boomerang of positivity. Science now tells us that charity work is good for our mind, body, and spirit. A recent study by the University of North Carolina found that the type of happiness that comes from helping others and having a larger purpose in life produces more antibodies than other types of pleasurable pursuits, which helps us ward off illnesses. In addition to making us happier, the social interaction that volunteering entails can lower your heart rate and blood pressure, increase endorphin production, enhance your immune system, and shield you against stress.
Noted spiritual teacher and author Deepak Chopra says we should not think of service in the conventional sense, as in one’s duty, but to look at it from the perspective of higher states of consciousness. In this view, service is not only a humanitarian effort but a path of joy and self-realization (our highest sense of self and purpose). It is an opportunity to increase our happiness. Service is about acting on a call for the unique gifts we can offer others. When this is a genuine calling, it isn’t based on our ego needs or motivated by social expectations.
People in recovery from addiction who work a Twelve Step program learn that service is key to staying clean and sober. Using alcohol or other drugs can make us feel isolated from the rest of the world (especially from those who do not use). Addicts, by their obsession with using, tend to be narcissistic, thinking only about their own immediate needs and neglecting those around them, including family and friends. By being a sponsor or reaching out to newcomers in their AA or NA groups, recovering alcoholics and addicts give back and keep their own demons at bay while helping others stay sober.
It might be hard to believe if you are caught up in your own misery, but there is someone out there who is in more pain than you are now and is in need of help. Just turn on or read the news, and you will find millions of people who are suffering from war, poverty, and natural or unnatural disasters.
Aside from the overwhelmingly positive feeling you get from giving unselfishly to others, you are likely to meet new people whose values you can admire and emulate. Being of service to others is a way to take you out of your own head for a while and forget your own troubles.
The act of compassion validates us in a profound way and creates a deep connection that heals by overcoming that feeling of isolation. When we offer compassion to others, something happens to us spiritually—our happiness and sense of well-being grow exponentially.
Excerpted from High: Six Principles for Guilt-Free Pleasure and Escape by Jodie Gould.
About the author
Drawing on current research and interviews with experts and everyday people, award-winning journalist Jodie Gould explores the universal need to feel good in Let's Get High: The Guilt-Free Guide to Healthy Pleasure and Escape. Through this engaging read, we explore the history of how and why people have continued to find ways to expand their consciousness and the biology of getting high, including what these altered states look like in the brain. From there we learn why some people can use mood-altering chemicals with few consequences while others struggle with addiction.
At the heart of Gould's provocative findings, she identifies six pleasure principles that show how anyone can experience the best and most lasting natural highs through the joy of
- Moving and playing
- Connecting with other people
- Finding purpose and meaning
- Creative self-expression
- Celebrating milestones
- Giving to others
Let’s Get High is your guide to experiencing the greatest high of all: Life itself!
Jodie Gould is an award-winning journalist and author of eight books, including Women & Recovery, with Kitty Harris, Ph.D., and Beautiful Brain, Beautiful You with Marie Pasinski, M.D. She has been a frequent contributor to Woman's Day and Family Circle, and she wrote a monthly column for Showtime.com. Gould has been interviewed on numerous TV and radio shows, such as Oprah, ABC World News Tonight, and Extra.