Relating in helpful ways, in particular, seems to do us a world of good. A variety of studies have shown that regular face-to-face helpfulness, including acts of volunteerism and neighborly goodwill, can contribute significantly to physical health and happiness — a natural, endorphin-fueled phenomenon known as a “helper’s high.”
Communities give us all kinds of opportunities to be friendly and helpful, of course, from lending a neighbor a cup of milk to supporting a local church project or providing an elderly acquaintance a caring ear. And if the collected research on helping is accurate, the value we get from offering such small acts of daily kindness would be hard to overrate.
The forces that pull us together are strong. But in today’s overly busy, materialistic and stretched-thin world, so are the forces that pull us apart.
In Affluenza: The All-Consuming Epidemic (Berrett-Koehler, 2005), John de Graaf and his colleagues describe the toxic cycle of overwork, overspending and debt that causes many Americans to disconnect from cooperative, community-based activities of all kinds — and to suffer as a result.
“We may wish we could look outside ourselves,” they write, “but we’re just too busy, too uncertain where to start, or too tired.” And so we stay focused on our own problems and our own little worlds.
The trouble is, the more we isolate, the less we acknowledge that we need anything from others. And the less we tend to care or notice what others might need from us.