We love chocolate as much as the next person, but we know Valentine’s Day is about more than that. And we also think it’s about more than just expressing love for your romantic partner. While it’s always a great day to do something kind for someone, a day dedicated to showing how much you care for others is a perfect opportunity to start the habit. Not sure how to be selfless this Valentine’s Day or any day for that matter? Read on to find out more about the importance of selflessness and a few suggestions on how to do it.
The Benefits of Selflessness
There are lots of reasons to be selfless that extend beyond the recipient. Let’s take a look at why selflessness matters, according to science, and then dig into how to be selfless in your daily life.
The main benefit of a selfless act probably seems obvious—the recipient of the act gets help, or someone to talk to, or whatever else they might need. But a selfless act does much more good than that.
According to researchers, being the recipient of an unexpected altruist act can increase someone’s energy, gratitude, trust in others, and appreciation for life.
But if we’re being honest, selfless acts are never entirely selfless. While we don’t recommend that you help others just because of how it makes you feel, we can’t deny that there are some benefits for you too.
For example, research has found that doing something selfless can make you happier. And that happiness is longer-lasting than the short-lived happiness that comes with being selfish. Altruistic acts can also help stop you from burning out too quickly, which can be a serious problem in professions like medicine or teaching.
And these are just a few of the reasons why researchers suggest that performing acts of kindness for others can increase your life satisfaction. Which is great, because being selfless can even help improve your health and well-being. In other words, it can even help you live longer.
Then there are the benefits that are good for both you and the recipient of your selfless act. For example, the social interaction that comes from connecting with others outside of your normal circle can increase happiness and a sense of belonging for everyone involved. A selfless act, like expressing gratitude, can also improve your relationships, including your romantic relationship (particularly important around Valentine’s Day).
The benefits of a selfless act even extend outward beyond the two people involved. It turns out that paying it forward is a real thing people do. Doing good for others is contagious. When you do something selfless, the direct and indirect consequences of that action ripple out into the world, helping others.
How to be Selfless Today—and Every Day
So now that we’ve (hopefully) convinced you of the benefits of doing something kind for others, you might be wondering how to be selfless in your everyday life. While there are a ton of ways do it, here are some of our favorite examples of selfless activities.
Many non-profits, social service programs, and other organizations that serve the public good rely on donations to do their work. If you have even a few dollars to give, you can help. For example, giving $10 to No Kid Hungry can provide 100 meals for kids. And if you’ve jumped on the Marie Kondo craze, organizations like Goodwill will help find good homes for your clothing and household items.
And it’s easier than ever to start giving. Apps like Charity Miles donate to an organization of your choice every time you log a run, walk, or bike. Get fit while giving back? Sign us up.
If you’re tight on funds, you can donate something else—your time. From soup kitchens to Habitat for Humanity, to animal shelters or retirement homes, there are plenty of organizations who might need your help. There are lots of places that rely on volunteers, so even just a little of your time can make a big difference.
What’s more? You get to choose where you volunteer. So you can line up your interests with your gift of time. To get started, check out VolunteerMatch, which gives you options in your area based on what you like to do.
This seems simple, but it’s actually a difficult skill to master. And one that matters endlessly when you do it well. If your attention wanders when someone tells you something important, you could benefit from better listening skills. And truthfully, most of us can.
The best way to learn how to listen to others is to practice active listening skills. This means asking questions, not interrupting, and paying attention to nonverbal clues. Soon, this sort of listening will become second nature.
Pay for the person behind you in line
Here’s how to be selfless without a big time or financial commitment: Throw down a few dollars for someone else’s coffee. Even if you don’t think clearly until you’ve had your own caffeine (same), you can get someone else’s day started off right.
Say thank you
We’ve talked a lot about how practicing gratitude can have positive effects on your happiness and health. But expressing your gratitude, even with a simple “thank you,” can have a lot of benefits for the person you’re thanking.
Thanking someone is an easy way to acknowledge them and their value. And that, in turn, can improve their confidence, and even productivity. Being thanked for their help also makes someone more likely to help others in the future. Just make sure your words of thanks are specific and heartfelt.
To sum it all up…
Daily life can be busy and complicated, and it can be hard to think of others’ needs regularly. We get it. But now that we’ve given you a few ideas on how to be selfless—and why you should do it—we hope that you take some time to give back this week. Donating your time, money or possessions, listening, thanking others, and doing small acts of kindness can put you on the right track. And the best part is that your small selfless act can even inspire others to do the same. Now that’s a way to show a little love this Valentine’s Day.
Your turn: Do you have a go-to move for showing a little kindness to others? Tell us how to be selfless in your own words.
Now that you know how to be selfless, check out these easy acts of kindness to keep giving all year long.
Author: Erica Hersh
Erica Hersh is a health writer, editor, and communications strategist based in Boston, MA. In 2014, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of being on Jeopardy. She did not, however, fulfill her dream of winning on Jeopardy.