In 2009, the UN designated International Humanitarian Day as a way to embody the idea that anyone can be a hero. Celebrated every year on August 19, the day is both a way to honor those who have lost their lives working on humanitarian causes and encourages everyone to recognize ways they can give back in their daily life.
It’s easy to look at a police officer, firefighter, doctor, or nurse and recognize their heroic deeds. But what about the person who helps a stranger in a store? Or shares their umbrella at a bus stop? Being a hero is more than volunteering time or engaging in a specific career, it’s helping others everyday in situations big and small.
You’ve heard us say, reasons reap rewards. And there’s a reason helping others feels so good. It’s hard-wired into our neurology. So let’s dive into three reasons why you should become a real life hero.
When you are kind to others, your brain releases three neurochemicals in response. The first chemical is oxytocin, the brain’s love chemical. This is the hormone that bonds you to others through love. Oxytocin elevates your trust levels, encourages you to be generous, and helps you become friendlier. When you engage in random acts of kindness, your brain releases oxytocin, which then triggers the rest of your reward centers.
The second chemical released is dopamine, the feel-good neurochemical. This hormone induces a pleasant state of short-term euphoria, which helps your brain reinforce the activity you just engaged in. Dopamine is strongly tied to your reward center. That’s what helps you develop habits. The more you engage in kind acts, the better you feel, which encourages those actions to become things you do frequently.
Your brain then releases a third hormone, serotonin. This hormone stabilizes mood and is generally attributed to your sense of happiness. Normal levels of serotonin helps you stay calm and focused in stressful situations, which leads to better outcomes.
This powerful combination helps sustain overall levels of happiness and life satisfaction. Both are incredibly motivating. When you live a life filled with acts of kindness and purposeful service, your brain chemistry works to encourage you to continue. You feel happier, fulfilled, and satisfied, triggering you to want to engage in kindness more. It’s a wonderful cycle. And one that’s easily introduced into your daily life.
One of the easiest ways to embrace kindness is simply working on how you see the world. We all get frustrated with our spouses, kids, co-workers, and even strangers. The next time you find yourself cursing the slow driver in front of you, or the co-worker who dropped the ball on a project, take a moment and reframe their behavior in a positive light. Instead of driving slow to irritate you, maybe they have a sick baby in the car or at home. When you change your frustration and outlook, you’ll be kinder to the person in response. And those small acts will not only make you feel better, they’ll make a world of difference to those around you.
Gratitude also releases dopamine and serotonin. However, unlike with kindness, you only need to focus on your internal gratitude or express external gratitude to trigger these releases. That makes gratitude a powerful source of happiness and mental well-being that you can do anytime.
Every time you practice gratitude, you reinforce the neural pathways that release these neurotransmitters. And the more they’re released, the more entrenched these pathways become. And because these neurochemicals also work to reduce stress, improve memory, and stabilize your emotions, gratitude can be an effective tool to help redirect your mind and recenter your focus.
The beauty of gratitude is the multitude of ways in which you can express it. Every time you say thank you when someone opens a door or smile at a stranger, you release these feel-good neurochemicals. You can use gratitude when you’re stressed or frustrated by simply pausing and finding something to be grateful for. It disrupts the negative thought patterns and can help shift your mindset and outlook in that moment.
Gratitude not only reduces stress and anxiety, it also activates the part of your brain associated with altruism. The more you express gratitude, the more you want to give to those around you, which then gives you more to be grateful for. It’s a cycle that sustains itself and leads to a happier, more fulfilled life.
Other ways you can express gratitude is by keeping a gratitude journal. Every night end the day with three things you’re grateful for, and on tough days, review your previous entries. You can keep a gratitude jar, where you add to the jar daily and pull a piece of paper when you need a reminder. Write thank you notes to friends and families, or send random gratitude letters to those who mean the most to you.
When you take the time to reflect what you’re grateful for, you start to notice more of the abundance around you. It helps change your perspective and your mindset. Expressing gratitude not only increases your happiness and satisfaction, it also helps you find focus and clarity. And that helps you discover your purpose.
It’s common to mistake passion for purpose. And while passion is vital in finding your purpose, it isn’t the sole ingredient. On one of our podcast episodes, Jim interviewed Jay Shetty, author of Think Like A Monk. Shetty also hosts his own podcast, On Purpose, and often discusses the purpose recipe. Passion + Service = Purpose.
Before you can plug in the formula, you have to start by embracing the sparks of curiosity. Curiosity can lead to finding things we’re passionate about. But as we all know, passion does not always lead to purpose. You can find your interest waning for a variety of reasons, but stomping out creativity by adhering too stringently to rules or waiting for the perfect moment will likely end in your passion fizzling out.
Researchers believe that the primary function of curiosity is to stimulate learning. And learning stimulates growth. When you allow the sparks of creativity to lead you down a path of learning, you can discover not just your passion, but also your purpose. And when you include kindness, generosity, and gratitude in your daily life, they can become the fuel that drives your passion and purpose forward.
When you find your purpose, you become an inspiration for others. Even if you aren’t saving lives, you never know who is watching and how you’re motivating or encouraging them to follow their curiosity and passion to discover their purpose. Your overall well-being improves, which improves everything from your productivity at work to forming deeper, more intimate relationships at home. In short, unlocking your purpose helps you become an everyday real life hero to everyone in your life.
Becoming a real life hero doesn’t require traveling the globe or engaging in monumental feats. By embracing kindness, practicing gratitude, and discovering your purpose, you improve the lives of everyone around you. This ranges from immediate family and friends, but also to those you work with, people you live around, and anyone else whose lives you unknowingly touch.
If you want to hear more about Jim’s real-life hero story, watch this video: