Sunday 4 August 2013


We've made it to day four of Happiness Happens Month and I'm beginning to wonder if I've taken on rather a bit more than I can chew (mixed metaphors!?) here what with deciding to focus on and blog about a different one of the 31 types of happiness every day of the month.  Feeling as if a little help would't go amiss.(actually, that's not a bad idea..if anybody would like to guest blog, please do let me know!)

Which is rather appropriate given that today's focus is 'helping'. I've chosen to focus on helping today because we've had giving and kindness the last few days and helping seems to tie in nicely with both of those. In fact they're pretty much the same thing.  Most of the science in this area uses the three terms interchangeably. But, like kindness, helping has a little flavour of it's own as well. Plus I have a slightly different angle to come at it from too. (early warning: rant alert!)

First things first, we know that helping others helps us because we've been talking about it all week. And it doesn't matter who you are or what age you are, being helpful is a very healthy thing to do. Action for Happiness says:

"There appears to be a relationship between happiness and helping others at every age:
  • Pre-school children who displayed empathy were more likely to have happy moods
  • High school students who said they experienced intense positive feelings were more likely to be involved in community service activities such as volunteering
  • Working adults who were happier at work were more likely to help others [2]
  • Volunteering has also been related to many benefits for senior citizens, including greater happiness and life satisfaction. [1][7]"
you can read more on their website here

Now, you may be surprised to hear that that's all I'm going to say about the benefits of helping others at the moment.

Because there are a few other things I want to say about helping that seem to get a bit left on the side lines in this whole happy helping discussion, but that I think are just as, if not more important:

1. Asking for help ourselves
2. Asking for help ourselves
3. The kind of help you give and how

Ok, so on the face of it, no 1 and 2 are the same, but it's up there for 2 different reasons as you'll see in a minute.

First off: Why is it that it seems really super easy to go out of our way to offer to help somebody else, but it can feel really super painful to ask for help ourselves?  When did asking for help become some kind of weakness? I just don't understand it.

Having the sense to recognise when we're stuck, being aware of our own limitations and most importantly being driven to improve and progress are surely three very desirable, worthy traits? Asking for help is a by product of all three. Doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results has been described by some as the definition of to break free? Ask for somebody else's input, or help.  How on earth does anybody learn anything without asking for help from time to time? As a manager I much preferred for somebody to take interest, to demonstrate some kind of thought process and ask for help in getting something done rather than to blindly plod along doing it any old how. I wanted to make sure that people felt comfortable enough to ask for help rather than feel stupid for not knowing, take ages fiddling around and then get it wrong. Ok, it was annoying if they asked the same questions every time and never actually learnt from the answers but that's another story. For the most part asking for help is a good thing and from my point of view, to be commended.

It's also incredibly healthy .  How many of us know (or are!) the martyr that insists on doing everything themselves. "Do you need a hand with those dishes?" "No, you just sit there, don't worry, I'll do them. Just as soon as I've redecorated the whole house, cooked a 4 course dinner, ironed all the shirts and solved world poverty. It's fine. I'll be fine". Um, no you won't, you'll get all stressed out, snap at everybody and then shut yourself in your room for hours. Just ask for help you moron.  By the way, I can say that, because I do it.

One of the hardest but best lessons I have ever learnt (EVER) is that it's ok to ask for help.  Sometimes I have to turn and look the other way and try to ignore the fact that whoever is giving the help isn't quite doing it how I would have done it, but that's another hang up for another day :)

So, while we're at it, to all those bloody stupid men out there (by the way do men really do this or is just something crisp advertisers and the like made up?) who refuse to ask for directions. Stop it. Ask for help. It is infinitely more manly to recognise that the quickest and most efficient route to arriving where you need to be is to ask somebody who actually knows, rather than namby pamby around driving here, there and everywhere, running out of petrol in the middle of nowhere and generally looking like a lost fool.

So, that was my (rather effusive) first point.  Help others, yes, wonderful. But please, please, please also ask for help yourself when you need it.

And on to point 2, which was the same as point 1: Sometimes, the best way to help somebody else is in fact NOT to help them at all, but to ask them to help you.  Imagine this: You're down, you're feeling totally worthless, useless and pathetic and people keep turning up to help you, doing everything for you and fussing around you as if you were...totally worthless, useless and pathetic.

Sometimes, as well intentioned as help can be, it can actually reinforce the very problem it's trying to solve. If you want to help somebody who is feeling worthless, help them to feel worthwhile by giving them something to do. If you want to help somebody who feels useless, find a use for them.  Ask them to help you. They might not want to, depends how down they feel. Just go on about how much it'd be helping if they could just do you one quick favour. Plus it'll take their minds of whatever it is that's getting them down for a bit too. The best volunteering projects, in my opinion, are the ones that involve the very people the project is intended to help in the work.

It's not at all the same as that saying about giving a man a fish versus giving him a rod so he can fish for life, but it's similar.

If you think about it, this point is pretty obvious because helping makes the helper to make somebody happier? turn them into the helper. Genius.

And so finally, in my little helping rant, on to my last point. Which is this: Be careful about what sort of helping it is you're doing and how you're doing it.  Basically, are you really actually 'helping' or just ticking a box.

Helping in a begrudging way isn't nice and doesn't make anybody feel nice. So either don't do it or pretend not to be begrudging. "If I really have to", "I don't want to but I will" and "I really hate washing up but if you really want me to then..." are all sure fire ways to make everybody feel worse than before. I know, I've been on both ends of that one.  So, either find something to help with that you will actually enjoy or stick your Mother Teresa face on and enjoy the good it's doing without letting on how much you hate it.

And finally, when somebody asks you for help, before leaping in and showing off about how much you know or how good you are at said thing, please first ask what sort of help it is they are after. Anybody who's had management training (should) know about different leadership styles and whatnot: coach, mentor etc. and I'm talking about a  similar thing here.  Does this person want help as in "HELP! I can't do it, I'm going to throw myself on the floor in a heap whilst you just do it for me" sort of help? Or would a gentle prod to help them in the right direction be better.  Would you be helping them more by giving them the benefit of your worldly experience and prior knowledge and just telling them the answer or could you offer a few gentle words of encouragement and ask a few probing questions until they get there on their own?

In short..whatever you do, make sure it is actually helping.

And if you need it yourself, just ask for it. Ok?

Rant over :)

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