Can doing good things for other people do even more for you? DARE’s Mollie Hammond gave it a go

Like it or not, narcissism is a way of life for lots of us, and, from the hours we spend getting the perfect selfie to the validation we seek for our amazing avocado toast on Instagram, how often do we lift our heads to think about someone other than ourselves?

I realised this might be a problem for me on a recent hungover Sunday afternoon while I was refreshing Instagram for the fifth time in five minutes, the phone cradled so close to my face that I resembled Gollum and his precious.

All I’d done all day was edit my best selfies from the night before and wait for the likes to start rolling in. For some reason (even though the likes got into triple figures), they weren’t giving me my usual hit. What was wrong with me? Had I got a bit bored with myself?

KINDNESS THUMBNAIL

I remembered reading an article about how good deeds can help elevate your mood in a similar way to the rush you get from social media validation, so I headed to Google for some do-good-feel-good research. Five minutes later, I’d found out that doing things for others causes the brain to release ‘the happiness trifecta’, oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, which are major mood boosters. Oxytocin is also an anti-inflammatory, reducing pain and enhancing wound healing. Dopamine is connected to motivation and arousal, while serotonin is connected to digestion, sleep and memory, learning, and appetite. That was me sold. I decided to give this do-gooding a go…

A coffee shared

Kind gestures don’t have to be huge or take much effort. My first step was to see what I could fit easily into a regular day. The Black Sheep Coffee chain runs a ‘pay it forward’ scheme: buy an extra cup of coffee at a discounted rate and a homeless person can then claim it. A Free Coffee Board is hung in each store and customers can write a message and pin it to the board by a voucher, ready to be redeemed by someone less fortunate.

I took a detour from my usual Starbucks and popped in here for my morning latte and paid for two extra drinks. I chatted to the staff, who told me how well received the drinks always were and I left with a massive smile on my face that lasted way beyond my caffeine buzz.

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Get fit, do good

I’m massively into health and fitness, so when a friend told me about GoodGym, an initiative that combines getting fit with doing good, I was all ears. I signed up for a Saturday morning run and, together with 20 fellow gym runners, took part in a 2k jog to Surrey Docks Farm. Our task there? Mucking out a goat enclosure. Not only were we being a great help to the farm owners, it made a nice – admittedly slightly odd – change from my usual lazy Saturday mornings.

I got chatting to GoodGym trainer Lucy, who has been involved with the scheme for four years. ‘GoodGym connected me with my local community, allowed me to learn new skills and is full of wonderful, kind, supportive people,’ she said. ‘It has changed my life dramatically.’

There’s such a broad range of tasks to get involved with, from helping an elderly person with their gardening to sorting donations for a charity shop. There really is something for everyone. I got the hit of endorphins I’d usually get from an intense gym class, as well as the bonus of fulfilling a good deed. It clearly had a positive effect on me, as my relentless chat about how I spent my Saturday morning resulted in another four of my mates signing up for the next run. My work here is done. 

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Putting it into perspective

Buoyed by my second task, I decided to step up a gear. So when I saw an appeal on Instagram made by the charity Camp Simcha, which works to improve the quality of life for children suffering from serious illnesses, I asked how I could help. The result was a day spent helping with their hospital bag scheme, which involves preparing kits containing items a parent would need for an emergency overnight stay in hospital.

‘Volunteering is something that makes me feel good – giving something back,’ said fellow volunteer Ali. ‘It puts things into perspective and getting feedback from a smiling child or an appreciative mum makes it all worthwhile.’ I could only agree.

Over the next few days I felt much less annoyed by silly small things, and my shopping urges were reduced. Having seen what we really need made me realise it wasn’t another new dress.

Changing the world

I’m now seeking ways to introduce kindness into my everyday life – whether that’s ditching single-use coffee cups in favour of my own travel mug or giving my spare change to the homeless man I often pass on my way to work. Looking at the bigger picture, I realised how amazing kindness has made me feel – and that there’s a good deed waiting to be done around every corner. Try it. I dare you.

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