two women having a discussion over coffee
Sarah Biren
Sarah Biren
December 9, 2023 ·  4 min read

Mom’s valuable lesson in give-and-take is a masterclass on why favors should work both ways

There’s an art to giving. Of course, giving charity and helping others is a good thing, but it’s important to consider the feelings of the people asking for help. No one likes feeling like a burden or pitied. The r/MadeMeSmile subreddit shared a beautiful story about a mother who helped her neighbors with empathy and dignity, and her child never forgot it.

How to Give With Kindness and Empathy

The post was accompanied by the title “Great parenting example.” But it’s also a brilliant example of how to give:

“I heard my mother asking our neighbor for some salt. I asked her why she was asking them as we had salt at home. She replied: ‘It’s because they’re always asking us for things; they’re poor. So I thought I’d ask something small from them so as not to burden them but at the same time make them feel as if we need them too. That way it’ll be easier for them to ask us for anything they need from us.’

The top comment responded beautifully to this tale.

Being someone who grew up poor, I understand this pride and fear of becoming a burden on others. What always helped my mother was feeling like she earned whatever we got. So neighbors and family would have her or us help with something in exchange for something we needed. It helped us both with whatever we needed as well as helping us retain our pride and humanity.

I honestly do the same thing with people struggling in my community that I know. It allows them to accept help and both of us to retain our fullest sense of humanity. We have made the idea of struggling or being poor meaning you haven’t tried or worked enough when that often isn’t the case. Receiving support ends up feeling like you are admitting you have failed in some aspect. I wish we could get past this idea, but in the meantime, I am so happy others are taking how a struggling family feels in mind.” [1]

Read: These Are Five Types of Friends You Probably Don’t Need

The Helper’s High

Kindness is crucial for a functioning community but it also is important for an individual’s wellbeing. In the 1980s, the concept of a “helper’s high” rose and became affirmed. We’ve all felt this at some point. It’s the positive feelings after helping others, often elation increased energy and a certain kind of serenity. The “high” is comparable to a post-workout high. However, a good feeling is just one of the benefits of giving. Research has found that a helper’s high is often accompanied by lowered stress levels and an improved immune system.

Another added benefit is that people are likely to repeat a generosity after experiencing this high. In this way, giving leads to more giving. In fact, social psychologists Melanie Rudd, of the University of Houston, and Jennifer Aaker, of Stanford University discussed this in Scientific American in 2014. They said “a burgeoning field of research showing that voluntary behavior can boost happiness by creating a pleasurable ‘helper’s high’ that can benefit the giver… So, telling people to do good things for others appears to be a good strategy for personal happiness.[2]

They add, however, that the giver should have a concrete, realistic goal in mind. When expectations are too high, the giver could feel disappointed and discouraged. No one can fix the world at once but anyone can do something small to make someone else’s day a little brighter. 

Giving in “Small” Ways

However, there are many ways to give. Many people think of volunteer work when they think of something altruistic. But volunteering isn’t for everyone. People who are already overwhelmed by their daily to-do list could end up feeling more stressed and burned out. Plus, trying to help people in a sad situation could end up negatively affecting the helper’s wellbeing. While giving can help one’s mental and physical health, it can also worsen it if done without considering oneself. [3]

Remember, there are many ways to give. Perhaps volunteering at a hospital isn’t for you but taking care of rescued animals or cleaning up beaches is. Also, giving doesn’t have to be a big, grand event. It can be as simple as helping a friend through a difficult situation or doing a simple favor for a neighbor. Giving can also include being quick to praise and encourage, looking for the good in people, asking others for advice, letting others help you, being patient, respecting privacy, and being sincere. [4] Kindness and giving are traits that everyone can work on in different ways, and it doesn’t need to be as big as donating a kidney or rescuing a family from poverty. Like the mother in the story, smart and empathetic giving can make a difference in someone’s life, more than you’ll ever know.

Keep Reading: My Husband Said ‘You’re Never Happy Anymore’—Then I Saw My Child’s Face


  1. Reddit. Reddit User TheGreatPlanthetsby. 2020
  2. “The Helper’s High.Science Direct. Larry Dossey. November 2018
  3. Helper’s High: The Benefits (and Risks) of Altruism.Psychology Today. Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. September 4, 2014
  4. 10 Habits of Remarkably Giving People.Inc. Jeff Haden. February 14, 2014