In the fall of 2012, I was involved with some of the remaining offshoots of Occupy Wall Street (OWS). This ongoing network reached its peak performance directly after Hurricane Sandy struck New York City a few days before Halloween. Calling upon connections forged over the previous year, “Occupy Sandy” (OS) sprung into action. The volunteer network covered a lot of ground — literally and figuratively. Our primary focus was on tangible, short-term, direct relief:
- Delivering food, clothing, and supplies
- Coordinating with and supporting local groups
- Checking on elderly, disabled, and other at-risk residents
- Not to mention, garnering some rare positive media coverage for OWS
I share this remembrance because of the energy I experienced at that time. Working each day, sometimes on the ground and sometimes at OS collection and distribution hubs, the effort was meaningful. There was a palpable joy in the air during the project. Sure, we were subjectively helping those in need but not a single volunteer would deny how uplifting it felt to become part of something bigger than any one of us.
Breaking News: Altruism helps everyone who is involved. This message should be screamed from the mountaintops in 2020. More people need our support, but the benefits for the “helpers” are also very real.
It may sound counterintuitive, but one of the best times to help others is when you yourself feel overwhelmed or stressed out. Altruism releases a rush of endorphins. The more you give, the better you feel — and the longer that feeling lasts. Some people call this “Helper’s High.” Research shows that its long-term impact can create:
- A positive worldview
- Deeper desire to connect with others
- Enhanced satisfaction with your life
- Stress relief
Of course, there are times when you may not be in the best position to become a helper. Like anything else, even altruism requires moderation. Tune in to your needs and find the right balance between giving…and self-care. Remember, an empty cup has nothing to offer the thirsty.
Gratitude and Perspective
When you’re face to face with the hardships of others, you can’t help but take stock of your own blessings. Shifting your perspective from one of comparisons to one of gratitude heightens your satisfaction with your life. It also serves to ease your physical struggles. According to studies:
- Volunteers tend to have better physical health and live longer than non-volunteers.
- Volunteers with chronic medical problems who help others with similar conditions report a decrease in the physical symptoms of their own disorder, along with less depression and anxiety.
Building Community/Bringing Different Folks Together
During my time with Occupy Sandy, we worked side-by-side and hand-in-hand with religious groups of every denomination, plus FEMA, the Red Cross, countless local organizations, and companies like UPS (drivers would show up with their trucks at OS collections hubs — ready to deliver supplies, free of charge, to impacted areas). The collective vibe got to the point where even the NYPD started directing groups and individuals to “OS.”
Altruism has the power to forge a sense of community even where divisions exist. It also increases the likelihood that you will also receive help when you need it. It sounds cliché, but there will be times when you reap what you sow. Not to mention, you’ll be leading by example — inspiring far more people than you may ever realize.
Many of us are conditioned to not seek personal gain from helping others. But there is absolutely NO reason you shouldn’t feel good about yourself whenever you do the right thing. Embracing the positive vibes about being a helper will keep the cycle going and growing. Spread the word.