“We make a living by what we get. We make a life by what we give.” ―Winston S. Churchill
Recently I was at a restaurant and after the server brought something to our table, instead of replying to our obligatory “thank you” with a “you’re welcome”, this server always replied “happy to help.” I don’t know why, but this stuck out to me. Mostly because normally in situations like these — customer and employee relations — both parties are simply repeating polite language with each other. It often times comes across as forced, but we think nothing of it.
The reality is that most of us become complacent in finding joy in helping others or showing appreciation for those who help us in return. It becomes easy to do this when day in and day out it’s our job to help others and we get little recognition in return. I know I’ve felt this as a teacher many days in the classroom. I also used to be a server and I know how it feels to have a particularly bad table of customers.
And I’ve heard stories from nurses, doctors, business people, lawyers, realtors, flight attendants, and baristas about how awful people have treated them before. We’re so used to the bad that we forget to appreciate and pass along the good.
This doesn’t mean we’re all bad people, hardly. But from what I’ve noticed happiness is something you have to be active and diligent about spreading. It doesn’t come from going through the motions just to get through the day and on to something better after work.
This is what was different about my experience in the restaurant — the server seemed genuinely happy to help us, even though it was his job. This positivity and happiness found in helping others really resonated with me. It spread to those of us he served, to those he worked with, and probably to other customers around the restaurant.
If simply saying “happy to help” could change the dynamic of the interaction between two strangers, then what effect might it have in other everyday situations?
As it turns out, there is science behind the joy of giving to others. Research has shown that doing good for others actually boosts our own happiness and lowers depression. It also gives us a sense of meaning and purpose and increases social connection.
“Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful.” — Jenny Santi in The Secret to Happiness Is Helping Others
And helping others doesn’t have to involve some great big task. Nor does it have to take a lot of time, money or energy from your daily routine. There are so many small things we can do to show appreciation for others and help each other each and every day.
Here are three habits that have completely changed my everyday mindset around serving others:
1. Reach out to at least one person every day
“The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.” — Mahatma Gandhi
People who delight in helping others are active in finding opportunities to do so. It’s not that the majority of us aren’t helpful people, but before I never really sought out ways to help others.
Now, however, I reach out to one person every day just to see if there’s anything I can do to help make his or her day better. Sometimes there is something I can do directly to make an impact and other times it’s just about setting up a time to hang out later in the week or about showing this person that I was thinking of him or her that is the happiness.
One of my friends who is really good at giving back to others says that she spends her daily routine thinking of how she can give back. Instead of wasting the time she uses every day showering, putting on make up, getting dressed and ready for work, she takes the time to think to herself about whose birthday it is, who could use a pick-me-up, or who needs extra help at work. What a way to embed this giving back mindset into the everyday routine!
2. Listen to everybody with the intent to serve
“The most important thing in communication is hearing what isn’t said” — Peter Drucker
We talk to people every day and in those conversations there are so many ways to help that go unnoticed. People don’t often come out and directly ask for help, but if you listen carefully you’ll find plenty of opportunity to offer your assistance. For example, a friend who says they can’t hang out because they’re swamped with work is a perfect chance to offer your services and take care of something for them. Some ideas I have suggested are walking their dog when they’re stuck at work, making and delivering dinner, running their errands, or helping with a home project.
Too often we get in the habit of living our lives and expecting the same of others, but the reality is that stress ebbs and flows for all of us. If we give back when we can, then we get more back when we’re overwhelmed with stress. Now I actively listen for signs of stress in my friends and family so I can reach out to help them in whatever ways I can.
3. Recognize and appreciate everyone
“Gratitude can transform common days into thanksgiving, turn routine jobs into joy and change ordinary opportunities into blessings.” — William Arthur Ward
This is the easiest way to give back, but also one that quickly gets forgotten. In America we’re especially accustomed to “the customer is always right” attitude so that we forget to appreciate good service. Whereas we might show appreciate for our friends and family, we don’t always pass that along to strangers we interact with every day. For example, in addition to saying “thank you” and tipping the server in the restaurant, I also wrote a letter to his boss to highlight an exceptional job well done.
Giving back is difficult work and when we do it thanklessly we can become frustrated and disillusioned with finding the happiness in it. This is what leads many people to stop giving back. This is why just going above and beyond in showing appreciation when people help us is the single best way to continue spreading the happiness.
One simple interaction completely changed my perspective on helping others. I realized that there were simple changes I could make to shift my mindset so that I found joy in serving those around me. And I have felt the benefits that this has on my own happiness and relationships with others.
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