“You must put on your own mask first before assisting others.”
This makes sense in an emergency flight situation, because if you try to help someone put on their oxygen mask before you have yours on, it is likely you will pass out very quickly before you can finish helping them, leading to a dire situation for you, and them.
We have imported this pre-flight safety element into a life philosophy. It gets used when talking about our mental health. Another one is ‘you can’t give from an empty cup’. Basically, look after yourself before you try to look after others.
It seems to fit, but it’s wrong.
These ideas assume that your mental health is not connected to the people around you, and if you are struggling with areas of life, all you need to do is to take a break from the world or isolate yourself from everyone else, recharge, feel better and then come back into the world to care for people.
There may be times when that is necessary, but the wellbeing of an individual is deeply linked to being in contact with and even caring for other people.
If you can spend time helping someone else and you can see the difference you are making, it will energise you. It is not a case of putting on your own mask first or filling your own cup up and then giving of yourself, but as you help someone else “put their mask on”, or “fill their cup”, your mask will be put on and cup will be filled up. As you care for others you will care for yourself. (Unless you don’t have generous boundaries).
It is something that studies have revealed frequently over the last decade, generosity is good for you. It feels good and it improves happiness.
It also turns out that the specific type of generous act can have an impact as well. A study was done to see what happens to the brain when people act generously. People were given the opportunity to give money to someone that they knew (someone they had been introduced to in the study) who needed it, a charity or to themselves. Now it is no surprise that when the study participants chose to give money to someone they knew who needed it, or to a charity, they felt good – better than when they gave it to themselves. The areas of the brain that ‘lit up’ where those that are linked to the reward system, providing a feeling of satisfaction and happiness. This is a common finding in a number of studies.
What was surprising is that when the participants chose to
give money to someone that they knew, this action, which is called targeted
support, was associated with diminished activity in the amygdala. The amygdala
gets a great deal of attention nowadays because it is the section of the brain
which is connected to emotions, the fight or flight response, anxiety, phobias
and post traumatic stress disorder. This diminished activity leads to less
anxiety and other mental health issues. Generosity is good for your mental
But it must be heartfelt rather than begrudgingly done. To
get the true benefits of generosity for your mental health it is best to be
generous on purpose. Be intentional with who and what you are giving to.