This post is part of The One Hour Project, in which you can spend just one hour to put your finances in a better place without a big lifestyle change, through frugality or other financial choices.
It’s something so simple that so many of us overlook in our busy lives: stopping to help people out when they need a hand. For the longest time, I would only stop and help out people if it was completely convenient for me – I didn’t really see the point of helping others out if it didn’t directly benefit me.
One day, though, that all changed. I was sitting on a city bus riding to class (I was a college student at the time) and I saw a woman getting on the bus. She didn’t have change for the fee and the driver asked her to get off the bus. She got upset – she was in a work uniform on her way to a job – and something inside of me just clicked. I saw myself in her shoes. So I walked forward, deposited the change in the slot, and she was able to board the bus.
She sat down next to me and thanked me for paying, then told me a bit about her life. She was married to an individual who was on active duty overseas (this was in the late 1990s – he was not in Iraq, I don’t believe) and trying to raise two children. Her mother lived there, too, and watched the children while she worked, and she was trying very hard to get a promotion at her job. As I watched her get off the bus and go to work, I realized that stepping forward and putting that change in the meter might have caused her to get to work on time – or even a bit early – and might have helped her get that promotion, improving the lives of those children. Who knows what the domino effect from that might be.
Since then, I make a regular effort to help people out if I see an opportunity. Although the time adds up over a long period, individual acts don’t take very long at all and they usually go a long way towards lifting someone’s day out of the doldrums.
There are three ways that this can benefit you – one directly and two indirectly:
First, you feel better about yourself for having done it. If I help someone get their cat out of a tree or return a shopping cart for an old lady, I feel better about myself. It genuinely lifts my mood for some reason.
Second, the person you did the favor for has a good chance of doing a similar favor for someone else. This is the “pay it forward” phenomenon and it actually exists – I’ve witnessed it over and over again.
Finally, on rare occasions, that small deed will pay off in some hugely unexpected way. Once, I spied an abandoned child in a department store. He was crying. I stopped for a moment and asked him who he was there with and when he saw her last, then I grabbed a worker at the store and asked if he could page the mother over the intercom. He didn’t know her name, so we just used a description of the boy. I then kneeled near the boy for a while and calmed him down by telling him his mother was coming for him – and sure enough, she arrived. The mother had been quite upset as well. I began to walk away and the mother handed me a gift card for the store, saying “Take it – and thank you so much!” The gift card was for $100. While you should never expect such things, they do occasionally happen.
Over the next week or so, keep your eyes open for people that might need a helping hand. If you notice someone who is having a problem that you might be able to help with, from a cell phone call to pushing a cart or anything else, just step up and offer to do it. Do it several times. See how you feel inside after you do it, and then see if this little move didn’t just make the world a better place.
Along those same lines, if you’re ever in a situation where you need a hand, look around you and imagine if others had this same philosophy. By doing your part to encourage a philosophy of offering a small social helping hand, you encourage others to do the same – and eventually that helping hand will come back around to you when you really need it. Consider it a form of social insurance – by paying the premiums of helping others, sometimes you’ll collect some amazing dividends.