What makes you happy? Maybe it’s quiet time with a good book, spending time with friends or family or pursuing a hobby.

Happiness comes in many forms for many people, but research shows if you really want to be happy, you can start by helping others. Whether you’re volunteering at a local charity or event, helping someone move, or just holding the door open for someone, studies show you’ll feel happier and more satisfied with your life when you’re doing something to help someone else.

It’s called the ‘helper’s high’.  Here’s what happens:

Your brain releases feel-good chemicals
Research shows that doing something for someone else stimulates the reward centre of the brain (hint: the same part of the brain that responds to food and sex). The brain responds by releasing feel-good chemicals -- like dopamine and endorphins -- that create a sense of euphoria, followed by feelings of calm and satisfaction.  

Triggering these positive feelings consistently over time can reduce stress and contribute to better health. The best part is, these positive feelings keep you coming back for more. It feels so good to help others, you’ll look for more opportunities to reward yourself again.

You feel good about yourself
Doing nice things for others gives you a sense of accomplishment. Every time you help someone else, you boost your sense of self-esteem and well-being. In fact, studies show that when one person does something nice for another, they feel a strong sense of gratification, even when the other person doesn’t know about it. This proves the old adage that it’s better to give than to receive.

It creates social connection
The process of helping others creates positive social connection and builds your network of friends and acquaintances. Working together as a group contributes to a positive mindset, greater energy and a strong sense of accomplishment. Feeling like you have a network of friends is good for mental health and can alleviate loneliness and depression. On the other hand, research shows that people who spend too much time alone suffer negative health consequences. 

It makes you more resilient
Helping others can provide a sense of perspective and a focus to take your mind off of your own problems. When you’ve been through a tough time in your life, the activism cure is a great way get back to feeling like yourself. Research proves people who volunteer experience better physical and mental health. Making a difference and having a strong sense of purpose helps re-build self-confidence and activates psychological resources to cope better in all aspects of your life. Perspective can be all you need to feel refreshed and ready to tackle life’s challenges head-on.

As a bonus, being kind to others has all kinds of physical and mental benefits. Humans are hardwired to take care of each other and to live in a community. The sooner you get started, the happier you’ll become.