Would you like to enjoy your day today? Sure you would. Here is one way to almost guarantee it: Try to help others enjoy their day more. I don't mean going around massaging people and washing their cars. I'm talking about the way you look at them and talk to them and listen to them. This simple method is more useful, sophisticated, and effective than it may at first appear. Let me explain.
off, we are social animals, and your brain rewards you with pleasure
when you show goodwill toward others of your kind. Who you consider
"your kind" is up to you, and it's flexible. You can think about the
fact that this person is part of your family, your neighborhood, your
company, your city, your country, or even a member of your species. You
can think about it any way you want, so think about it in a way that
lets you feel the two of you are the same kind. Then your friendliness
and kindness toward them will trigger your brain to make you feel good.
this method takes your attention off yourself and puts it out in the
world. Even if you still felt grumpy or tired, you wouldn't notice it as
much because your attention is off yourself. It's also true that the
very act of paying attention to yourself and your problems can make you
feel worse. It is a kind of first-stage self-help to focus less of your
attention on your own problems. This method is a great way to do that.
third, the tones of voice and facial expressions of the people around
you affect your mood. Why is this important? Because when you try to
help people, it changes how they interact with you. When you see the
change in them, it'll change the way you feel.
So how can you do it? Other than giving them money, how can you help people? The simplest way is with a kind of amiable extroversion. In the American Heritage Dictionary, extroversion is
"interest in one's environment or in others as opposed to or to the
exclusion of oneself." Even when you feel withdrawn, the act of speaking up makes you feel less introverted. It makes you feel bolder and more alert.
Be outgoing and kind to others, especially when you feel like withdrawing. It makes you feel better. Be your sincere self.
Avoid being phony. Don't try to act like someone you're not. But be
outgoing and kind to people, not just in your actions, but in your
Make others feel good, and help them feel
good about themselves. Volunteer nice comments to people. Voluntarily
say nice things about people — behind their backs and to their face —
and avoid talking badly about anyone when you can.
Be helpful when and where you can. Try to be constructive. Avoid being destructive or critical.
This includes listening, which is a form of reaching out (to draw others out).
is a characteristic of happy people. Look around you at people nearby
and ask yourself, "What do they need?" One needs a little cheering up.
Another needs a smile from you. Or for you to listen to a problem, or
show an interest, or give a pat on the back, or a compliment. Or just
simple human kindness — not only expressed outwardly, but also
demonstrated in your thoughts (forgive people, try not to judge them, etc.).
you're so busy with your work you don't have time for this stuff, then
you probably don't have your own anxieties on your mind much either. Work tends to take up enough attention. But if it doesn't, make it your personal mission to raise the general tone of the people around you. A higher tone is needed and wanted in this world and you can help.
Here's a true story and an example of the principle: Forty miles from Paris was the Forest of Fontainebleau.
Artists came from all over to paint there. It took two days to walk
from Paris to this forest, but an artist in his early 20's named Pierre
had often done so.
One day, Pierre was painting when a
dazed, mud-splattered, ragged man stumbled out of the forest and gasped,
"Please help me! I am dying of hunger."
The ragged man
was Raoul Rigaud. Pierre fed him and heard his story. Raoul was a
journalist who had opposed France's authoritarian government in some of
his writings. Now the authorities were after him. They had surprised
Raoul at his home, but he sneaked out the window and barely escaped out
of Paris. Now he was exhausted, and had decided to give himself up. He
could not go on like this.
Pierre felt sympathy for
Raoul. He convinced Raoul not to give himself up. Pierre borrowed an
artist's smock and painting kit from a nearby village, and over the next
few weeks they spent together, Raoul became, to all eyes, just another
visiting artist to the Forest. A very grateful Raoul was eventually able
to contact friends in Paris and they arranged for him to flee France.
Years went by.
day Pierre was painting by the Seine river when some national guardsmen
stopped to look at his work. All of a sudden, one of the guards grabbed
the painting and accused Pierre of being a spy for the Versailles
forces. He said this painting was a painting of the Seine area showing
vulnerable points and strategic locations to guide the Versailles
troops. The guards were getting agitated, and a small group of people
had gathered. "A spy!" they shouted. The soldiers placed poor Pierre
under arrest and marched him to the town hall where a firing squad was
on permanent duty to handle things like this.
The crowd grew into a mob. They were now shouting, "Kill him! Kill him!" But Pierre was not a spy. He was just a poor painter.
"trial" and conviction was nothing more than a nod from the captain.
Pierre's hands were tied. He was dragged down to the firing squad. He
closed his eyes. This was the end.
But when he opened
his eyes, he saw the Public Prosecutor standing in front of him. The
Prosecutor happened to be passing by when he saw what was happening.
"Surely you remember me!" said the Prosecutor, and he embraced Pierre.
was Raoul Rigaud! Because of his kindness and optimism years before,
Pierre was saved. And the world was better off for it — Pierre's
artistic ability continued to blossom, bestowing on the world a genius
with color and light and shadow. Because of his kindness to a stranger
in trouble, Pierre-Auguste Renoir had saved his own life.
may not necessarily save your life, but acts of kindness and
extroversion toward others will raise your mood. Helping others enjoy their day more will help you enjoy your day today.
Adam Khan is the author of Self-Help Stuff That Works and Cultivating Fire: How to Keep Your Motivation White Hot. Follow his podcast, The Adam Bomb.