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How to Develop a Lifestyle of Helping Others

  • Whitney Hopler Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2011 6 Jun
  • COMMENTS
How to Develop a Lifestyle of Helping Others

Editor's Note: The following is a report on the practical applications of Stephen G. Post's book, The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times, (Jossey-Bass, 2011).

Going through a hard time? Then help others who are struggling. It may seem counterintuitive to reach out to others in need when you’re feeling so needy yourself. But when you help other people, you help yourself, too.

Helping others is a healthy habit to develop, no matter what circumstances you may be going through. While your focus is on blessing other people, you’ll find that God blesses you in a wide variety of ways.

Here’s how you can develop a lifestyle of helping others:

Consider the many benefits of helping others. Helping other people will help you: get rid of negative emotions like anger or grief, reduce stress, increase joy, improve your physical and mental health, renew your sense of hope about what’s possible, improve your sense of self-worth, and connect you to caring people.

Don’t let anything stand in your way. It’s easy to make lots of excuses about why you don’t want to help others: it’s inconvenient, it’s messy, it pushes you out of your comfort zone, you don’t feel like you can spare time or energy, or you’re just plain indifferent or apathetic when you encounter other people’s needs. Pray for the strength to avoid making excuses, and ask God to give you the compassion you need to truly care about other people’s suffering and the motivation you need to help them. Decide that you’re going to help other people regularly, because you want to become the kind of person who loves the way God wants you to love.

Notice the opportunities to serve around you. Every day, pray that God would guide you to the people He wants you to serve and recognize what specific ways He wants you to help them. Keep in mind that you can’t do everything, but you should do something, and God will help you figure out which opportunities are best for you and set appropriate boundaries so you’re able to help in effective ways without overwhelming yourself.

Get the “giver’s glow. ”When you give some of your resources (such as time, energy, or money) to help others, you free yourself from a preoccupation with your own needs and help yourself trust God more. You also discover and fulfill more of God’s purposes for your life, which will bring you joy. Medical researchers have found that helping others triggers the brain to release chemicals called endorphins that cause feelings of satisfaction and happiness. All of this contributes to the “giver’s glow” that makes you feel fulfilled when helping other people in need.

Identify a special group of people you’re especially passionate about helping. Pray about the distinctive blend of interests and talents God has given you, and ask for the wisdom to figure out which type of group of people you can focus on helping. While it’s important to remain open to helping people in a variety of situations as God leads you, you can help people the most when you build meaningful relationships with them, as you can by focusing on a primary way of serving. Are you passionate about helping children who are struggling in school, or elderly people who are lonely? Do you sense a calling to help people who are suffering from a certain disease, like cancer? Is God leading you to reach out to prisoners? Is there a special cause that’s close to your heart, from finding homes for homeless animals to working for tougher laws against drunk driving? When you help people in a way that you’re passionate about, you’ll discover the thrill of fulfilling more of God’s purposes for your life.

Learn the strength of compassion from the weakness of those you serve. Ask God to teach you the value of human weakness and develop compassion in you as a result. Get to know some people who our society perceives as weak because of their profound needs (such as physically or mentally disabled people) and learn from them more about why it’s important to trust in God’s unconditional love, why people should treat each other with respect, and why being is just as valuable in God’s eyes as doing.

Find gratitude and joy by being consistently generous. The more you incorporate generosity into your daily life, the more you’ll notice that you can thank God for, and the more of God’s joy you’ll feel regardless of your circumstances. Generously helping others whenever possible will also prove to you that the more you give away love to people in need, the more of God’s love you’ll notice flowing through your own life in an unlimited supply. So start out forcing yourself to be generous to others when you don’t feel like doing so, and then notice how your feelings change the more you decide to be generous. Soon, you’ll want to be generous, and generosity will become a natural part of your life because you’ll feel good each time you help others.

Discover hope for yourself when you instill hope in others. Defy despair when you’re suffering personally by helping other suffering people through a cause that’s bigger than yourself. Celebrate the good goals that you have already achieved through your work serving others so far in life. Ask God to use your service to others to reveal a hopeful vision of what your life can become like in the future. Keep trusting God to bring great good out of your work helping the people He has called you to help.

Adapted from The Hidden Gifts of Helping: How the Power of Giving, Compassion, and Hope Can Get Us Through Hard Times, copyright 2011 by Stephen G. Post. Published by Jossey-Bass, an imprint of Wiley, Hoboken, NJ, www.josseybass.com.   

Stephen G. Post is professor of preventive medicine and director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University. He is a leader in the study of altruism, compassion, and love and president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. Post is the author (with Jill Neimark) of the widely praised Why Good Things Happen to Good People. You can visit him online at: http://www.stonybrook.edu/bioethics/post.shtml.

Whitney Hopler is a freelance writer and editor who serves as both a Crosswalk.com contributing writer and the editor of About.com’s site on angels and miracles (http://angels.about.com/). Contact Whitney at: angels.guide@about.comto send in a true story of an angelic encounter or a miraculous experience.