Monday, June 18, 2012
Helping and Happiness
As I was driving to an appointment this morning, I found myself in a line of cars stopped at a traffic light. Along the median that divided the two sides of the street walked a man holding up a sign that said "I'm hungry. Please help." While I've often ignored these people in the past, today I wanted to help. As I was about to pull out my wallet though, the light began to change. Unfortunately there was no safe place for me to pull over without causing an accident and so I missed the chance to help him. Two good things did happen, however.
First, a person two cars in front of me rolled down his window and handed the man a banana and what looked like a muffin. It was probably the driver's breakfast and it was so cool to see him offer it to the beggar instead. Second, I was inspired by yet another example of the generosity that truly is prevalent, and yet, so often goes unnoticed and unreported. It made me even more determined to be on the lookout today for opportunities to serve. And sure enough, just such an opportunity presented itself within a couple of hours.
On the way home from my appointment, I pulled into the parking lot of my local Wegmans to pick up a couple of items. As I approached the store, I noticed a woman with one child on her hip and 2 other small children in tow, trying to get them all loaded into her minivan, along with a shopping cart filled with groceries. I hesitated for just a moment, not wanting to frighten her, and then said to her, "Excuse me, ma'am. Can I give you a hand loading all these groceries into your car?" Not sure quite what to make of me, she also hesitated a moment but then said "Sure," as she certainly had her hands full.
She had 10 or 12 plastic grocery bags to be unloaded and it probably took me no more than 2 minutes or so before I was done. By that time her kids were safely seated in the minivan and she turned to thank me. She looked somewhat quizzically at me and asked if I worked there. I told her that I didn't and that I just saw that she looked like she could use some help and wanted to be of assistance, as I remember what it was like to have small children. This seemed to surprise her (in a good way) and she thanked me several more times. I had the feeling she was going to go home and tell her friends and family, "Wait till you hear what happened to me at Wegmans today!"
It was so fun to offer unexpected help to a stranger, and it surely left me feeling happier and more energetic. Several times this year I've mentioned some of the research that suggests that practicing regular kindness is one of the most common attributes of the happiest people. I definitely understand this in a more visceral way, not just in an intellectual way. It's strange how it works, but it absolutely does. Maybe we're biologically wired that way intentionally. I'm really not sure, but I can anecdotally say that nearly everyone I know reports that they feel happier when they are kind to others - a thought well worth pondering - and putting into action.