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Feel Better by Helping Others

By Satya Robyn

When people first come to a Buddhist service here at the temple, we often ask if they’d be happy to help wash up after our post-service cup of tea. This introduces them straight away to the culture of the group here, where we encourage everyone to muck in and help each other out.

We encourage people to be kind to each other because it is a good thing to be kind to each other, but there is also a happy side-effect to helping others. Helping others makes us feel good and brings us many other benefits.

We all know the feeling we get when we have been of use to someone. This weekend we organised a surprise birthday party for a friend and this took a fair bit of work. When we saw their shocked and happy face, it was all worth it – at the end of the day we were exhausted but we felt great. We can find pleasure from helping people out in smaller ways too – giving them directions when they look lost, or being courteous when we’re driving and slowing down to let them out of a junction.

Helping others also connects us to other people and to the broader community, and it stops us from feeling isolated. It can be a great way of getting to know people. It’s also a good way of learning about ourselves – both by paying attention to the person we’re helping, and by noticing our own reactions as we help. I have felt inspired recently by someone who is coping with a very difficult situation with great grace, and I also learnt something about setting boundaries when helping someone who wanted ‘endless help’.

How can we begin to practice helping others?

1. Smile and say thank you. Give a genuine smile to the woman at the check-out or the man you pass walking on the hills. If you really enjoy your meal, ask your waiter to pass on your thanks to the chef. These small acts don’t take much time, but might change someone’s whole day.

2. Send out some love. Identify someone who needs some support at the moment, and spend five minutes sitting quietly and sending out love towards them. This is called ‘metta practice’ – who knows whether it has any effect on the person you’re holding in mind, but it’s good practice for us, and it can’t be doing them any harm!

3. Send a letter or give something away. If you’re wondering how an old friend is doing, write and ask them. Send your niece a card. Buy an extra pack of biscuits when you go shopping and give them to your friend or someone you feel grateful to.

4. Perform one random act of kindness a week. If your neighbour mentions she’s having trouble keeping her weeds down, offer her an hour’s weeding or pay for someone to come in. Give five pounds to a Charity. Send your mother-in-law some flowers.

5. Offer to volunteer. A variety of organisations who do great work use volunteers – we have regular volunteers here in the temple garden, or you could help a child with their reading, or pick up litter. See what opportunities are available.

Enjoy your helping, and let me know how you get on –

Satya Robyn is a psychotherapist, a writer and a Buddhist Priest. She runs the Amida Mandala Buddhist Temple in Malvern with her husband. Find out about seeing her as a therapist at