Sally Hall: Bring a little joy to others and boost your happiness factor

Helping others makes you feel good but first find out if they want  or need your help.
Helping others makes you feel good but first find out if they want or need your help.
Have your say

There’s been a lot in the news about happiness lately. We’ve had all the usual doom and gloom as well, of course.

But I guess as long as murder and political unrest are considered a news event, we can relax.

Happy stories are relegated for a reason – because they happen to us far more often than disasters do.

The Independent on Sunday recently published its Happy List, featuring a beaming line-up of benefactors whose place in the world is measured by the joy they’ve brought others rather than the piles of cash they’ve accumulated.

It’s a sentiment echoed by the lovely Action for Happiness project, which has identified 10 keys to happier living.

Based on lots of research, the project’s number one suggestion is ‘do things for others’.

It’s true – helping others does make you feel good. Up to a point.

I’m a do-gooder of the highest order, a card-carrying Good Samaritan who can’t walk past an old lady crossing the road without offering my assistance.

Even if, in the end, I will most likely put her more at risk of being run over.

So keen am I to exude altruism, that I often trip over myself offering inappropriate help to random strangers, and end up doing neither of us any good.

Once, I popped out for some late-night treats from the local supermarket (with my then-boyfriend in tow), and spotted a frail-looking older man trudging through the deserted car park.

It must have been about 10.30pm, maybe later, and the streets were empty.

Not a car in sight. So how was this man, laden down with bags of shopping, going to get home?

I stopped to ask if he needed help. ‘I’d appreciate a lift to the bus stop,’ he croaked.

My heart melted. He looked so exhausted and lost, there was no way I was going to drop him off at some random bus stop.

So my bloke (reluctantly) scooted into the back seat and the night shopper, let’s call him Harry, doddered in beside me. ‘Don’t worry, I’ll take you home,’ I promised, recklessly.

My new passenger looked doubtful. ‘It’s quite a long way,’ he cautioned. But I insisted. For the first 10 or 15 minutes of the journey, he gave very good instructions. But then things became a little muddled.

He was directing me at each turning – ‘right at the lights, left at the next junction,’ - and seemed to know the way.

But then he made a confession. ‘I’m sorry, dear, but I’m almost blind. I can’t really see where you’re going.’

We pulled over. Getting out my A-Z, I asked Harry his address. Blank look. Harry had no idea. ‘It’ll come to me,’ he said. ‘It’s the name of a town in the South’

So we listed all the towns we could think of. Dozens of them. But none jigged Harry’s memory. He had no idea where we were, and no idea where he lived.

Then I had a brainwave.

Running over to a Chinese takeaway across the road, I borrowed their phonebook. (This is pre-smart phone era. Remember those days?)

Then I read out the name of every retirement and nursing home in the city until he recognised one.

Phoning the manager, I discovered this wasn’t the first time Harry had disappeared on a nocturnal walkabout.

I won’t share the details of my ex’s response to my good deed after we finally dropped Harry off some time before 1am. Maybe he over-reacted slightly. But I did take on board what he said. If you want to help someone, first make sure they know their own address. Everything else will follow from there.

Caroline Verdon: Making mistakes is a really important part of learning