What is it, that makes us help other people when they ask us to? Do we help them because we care about them, do we help them because it makes us feel good or because we are hoping for something in return from them?

My friend, Vincent and I were talking about this last night, trying to wrap our heads around our motivation behind doing something for other people.

On any given day, we probably meet or see a number of people who could use our help in one way or another. In some cases it might be very obvious but in other situations it can be well hidden and the person we meet, may not even know that we could help him or her in some way.

If you are walking down the street, and you an elderly lady trying to cross the road, there is a case if someone who could obviously use some help. When a person trips and falls on the street, maybe they could use a hand to get back up again. Other times you can walk past a person on the street who is in need of a person with your particular skill set, but because neither of you are advertising your skill set or the need to use it, it is much harder to see and react on.

For some people, asking for help is considered a weakness and they will always try to fix everything themselves. I don’t know if I necessarily think asking for help is a weakness, but I can sometimes have a hard time believing that someone else can do a better job, or that someone can do what I want them to do, the way I want them to do it. This is a personal character flaw that I struggle with. However, there are also times where people do not ask for help because they’re afraid to be a burden or they don’t want to disturb. But without help they will be stuck.

I think asking for help is natural. We cannot handle everything ourselves, and nor should we. Rather than one person pulling the load, why not share it?

Fortunately, I also see examples of nice people just doing nice things for others. Little things like helping the elderly cross the road, or picking up what someone dropped in front of you. These are little Hunan niceties that can actually make a big impact on the people exposed to them. Helping is nice.

“When you help someone, are you helping them just because they need it and you are a nice person, or do you secretly, perhaps subconsciously, want something in return for your help?”

“When you help someone, are you helping them just because they need it and you are a nice person, or do you secretly, perhaps subconsciously, want something in return for your help?”

These were not the exact words but they come pretty close and it is actually a really good question.

I try to help people as much as I can, and I do not always have an idea of my motivation behind helping. I do not usually put too much into it, I just want to be nice to people. But I think regardless of what we do to help, we are always expecting something in return, even if it is just gratitude, a thank you, some recognition or good will. Simon Sinek has an example in one of his talks, where he mentions giving money to a homeless person. You give them money and you feel good. You bought that feeling of good will and he calls it a legitimate transaction. Like buying something in a store.

I think even when there is no money involved, the transaction is the same. If I help an elderly lady cross the street I will feel good about myself. I will likely get a thank you and not much else. But I got a reward. I did an action and I bought good will and a smile and the elderly lady’s gratitude. When I help my colleagues at work with their computer, I get the same reward. Good will, a smile and their gratitude and it is all I want. Usually, if it is a pretty girl, I’ll settle for the smile they always give me.

There is another side to helping though, one that I think is slightly separate from just doing something nice for someone. And that is when someone asks you a favor. Doing a favor for someone, usually means that, that someone, now owes you a favor. You are still getting a thank you, maybe you get the feeling of good will, but above all else, you have now earned a favor with them, you now have a “ticket” for getting help sometime in the future when you needed. It might not be as simple as that, and I think many, friends especially, maybe use the word favor without having the implied meaning of “if you do this for me, I’ll do something for you later”. I think it has more or less just become a nice way to ask someone for help, letting them know that we are available for them later, should they need a hand with something. But if you watch movies or TV shows, someone always brings up a favor, or a “solid”, from some time in the past, and suddenly you have no choice but to act. And I think this goes slightly against, the good will of just helping, as we are suddenly not just expecting, but demanding something in return.

But if we are always expecting something in return, how is it that we, as people, have different capacities to help others? If we all want something in return, then why is it that some are just genuinely more friendly and helpful than others? What makes you want to help the elderly lady across the road when no one else does it? Is it simply that some people demand too much for their help, know they won’t get it and therefore can’t be bothered? Or is it because there are some, who will settle for whatever we can get, and are quite happy with just a smile and a thank you?