The Helper’s High

I’ve been reading about a book by Allan Luks, called ‘The Healing Power of Doing Good’.

According to Luks, over millions of years our bodies have developed a mechanism whereby we are rewarded when we do good.

He argues that, having learnt the value of ‘cooperation’ as a ‘good survival strategy’, being nice to others produces what’s known as the ‘helper’s high’. The hormonal equivalent of a well done me, every time I do something kind for someone else.

This is an interesting idea. On the one hand, it may explain the glazed eyes and frenzied activity behind activities such as the seemingly innocent Parish coffee morning (aka Great Bake-off). However, if we’re going down the evolutionary route, I can’t help feeling that bloodthirsty rivalry warms the cockles of the heart more efficiently than warm fuzzies. What do I mean? Well, as a survival strategy, it’s hard to see how being nice actually works. Dodos, for example, are nice. Fluffy bunnies. Kittens. Cockroaches – not so much. And in the event of nuclear apocalypse, who’s going down? Not your roachy mates, that’s for sure.

As for the so-called ‘helper’s high’ – well, there’s no doubt that sometimes it feels good to care for others. But it can also be tiring and depressing and draining. Particularly if I’m looking for a response such as gratitude, when instead I’m taken for granted. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed similar benefits from jumping queues, stealing sweets from toddlers, snaffling the last of the toothpaste and watching others struggle through the snow from the comfort of my living room.

Left to my own devices, my inner Hinderer is louder and much more persuasive than the Helper. It goes against my natural instincts to love others – and when I do, it doesn’t result in an endorphin-fuelled high so much as a painful dying to self. It hurts. And the consequences are not always pleasant. For example, what could be more loving than to share the gospel with my family and friends? But speaking the truth in this instance may produce the helper’s hurt as much as the helper’s high. At best, I may be ignored. At worse – despised and rejected.

If my behaviour is driven by the dynamics of survival or by an internally motivated system of rewards, then ‘nice’ hasn’t got a hope. The heart that drives my motives and desires has to be changed. And only the Lord can do that.

4 thoughts on “The Helper’s High

  1. Been enjoying reading your posts Mrs S: thought-provoking and insighteful stuff – thanks! This one about the high you get from being helpful especially resonates. Lately I’ve been aware of a situation or two where I’ve been functioning as “helper” but not getting the same “highs” due to the seeming bleakness of the realities of the situation. Means I’ve been having to numb my compassionate side, which is a clear indication that all is not well…
    So I need to stop (!) take stock and consider before God what He wants me to bring to the situation. I guess our ideas of what “help” should involve are often sadly misguided. We need to love others with the kind of love Jesus has shown us. Does Jesus “help” us? Sure he does, but only in the context of his great love for us.
    Not sure that’s a great or watertight answer but you never know… it might just help someone!!

  2. Thanks Pedro. Yes, if our ‘help’ is conditional and self-motivated I guess that means it really isn’t very loving. It is precisely when our words and actions don’t seem to make a difference that we look again to The Helper. Not only does He give us the strength we need to serve, but as we pray for others, He can be trusted to care for them. This takes off the weight that makes us feel both that we are useless and that we alone have the answers. So easy to say – praying that both you and I would know this freedom.

  3. Relevant thought came up today from 1 Corinthians: “If I give away all I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
    The love thing is key – and the next few verses help starting with “Love is patient and kind…”
    “Patience” perhaps helps with not rushing into simply doling out the kind of help that we think most useful. There’s a thought!

  4. That’s really insightful – thanks. Hadn’t thought about pausing as part of loving others. And you’re right, if I help millions of people and have not love, it don’t mean a thing.

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