Ask Dr. Allen: Why we help other people

Feeling empty? Give more

One may ask, how does it benefit me to help someone else? 

Our culture continually sends messages about what we need, what we don’t have, what we should get. We get stuck in a cycle of feeling empty. We don’t measure up to what we see on TV and the internet. As a result many teens feel a sense of worthlessness just when they begin searching for their identity. Now they have added expectations (that are false), that they should be different, better, more physically appealing, and have more stuff.

The message is that, somehow, this search is supposed to make us feel fulfilled.

But we all know people who have a lot, and feel empty. I guess fame, fortune and popularity aren’t the best goals.

So what fills our tank? For many, it’s being of benefit to someone else. It could be a family member, neighbor, co-worker, stranger, or someone met at random.

As we respond to their need, our perspective changes. We reflect on what we have, instead of what we don’t have. We may even feel grateful for family members we previously did not feel good about.

Because we are needed, our sense of self value. Is enhanced. Helping others adds meaning to our existence. It shifts the focus from ourselves, our needs, our problems, and our desires.

Is the person who gets the most benefit from the giving the giver? Yes.  It’s a dumbfounding reality that we receive when we give. I wish I was taught this at a young age, instead of wasting so many years buying into the societal emphasis to focus on yourself. Well, at least I finally figured it out, or should I say, allowed myself to receive this reality.

Freedom4U has been taking teens to service activities for several years. It is incredibly  satisfying to do these activities with youth, as they give of their time to those who have less,  and who face violence, abuse and poverty daily.

But you don’t have to interact with someone who lives in peril. The person you help could be your neighbor, someone at a store or a family member.

We give, and then we receive ,which leads us to want to give again, and the healthy productive meaningful cycle continues. I’m sure many readers already live in this reality. If not, give it a try. Let’s keep the cycle of gratitude going!

Dr. Greg Allen is a Licensed Therapist practicing in Palos Verdes Estates. He is also the founder and director of Freedom4U, a non-profit that seeks to guide youth towards their life purpose and thereby reduce risky lifestyles. ( His new non-profit Hearts Respond, focuses on supporting LA Harbor families in social-emotional and creative areas. (  Dr. Allen may be reached at PEN


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