Why accepting help makes us happier

accepting help

Many of us find offering help far easier than accepting it from others, but the latter can yield so many benefits, as journalist Catelijne Elzes discovered.

When my washing machine broke, 
I first considered going out to find a laundromat, but decided to call my neighbor instead. This was hard for me because I don’t really like asking for favors. But in this case I was in a hurry, and needed my workout clothes fast, so I decided to risk it. “Of course! You’re welcome to use my machine,” she said.

I went to her house and we had a nice chat about where those little holes in our T-shirts come from and 
90 minutes later, she was at my door with my red laundry basket, filled with clean clothes. In the course of the following week, I also did a wash at my downstairs neighbor’s place. I forgot what a funny guy he is and it turns out he works at home just as often as I do—good to know. And I did the last load of laundry at my brother-in-law’s who lives two blocks away from me. We drank tea while we waited for the wash to finish. We talked about his battle against the insurmountable pile of laundry he’s had since he became a single father. We had a nice time.


What if they say no?

A few days later when my machine 
was fixed, I felt slightly disappointed. I wondered why I don’t ask for help more often, because it gave me such a good feeling. Apparently, I’m not alone in this. Research among the elderly shows that 65 percent would rather pay for help than ask family or friends. Whether this also applies to younger people hasn’t been studied, but after asking friends of mine, I believe most of them don’t like 
asking for help.

According to Dutch psychologist and author Albert Sonnevelt, this is mostly because we are afraid to lose control. To start, it means handing something over to someone else, and losing our grip on it. Secondly, because asking for help requires admitting we can’t do everything by ourselves. And oh how we love to be independent! Another tricky part is the feeling that you are taking on a ‘debt’ if you ask someone else for a favor. If they pick up your child for you from school one day, you feel like you have to return the favor some time.

There is another scary aspect to asking for help: the fear that the other person might say no. Founded by Swiss/British philosopher Alain de Botton, The School of Life has made 
a great animated film about this that is available on YouTube: The Terror of a No. In the video, a bird is walking through the forest, and would rather die than have to run into a big bad ‘no’.

Being told no is apparently so painful that we would rather never ask for work, money, help or even a kiss. Why? Because we have the idea that if someone says no to a request, that the no is directed at us, as a person, that we are being rejected in our entirety, even though someone is probably just saying no because it doesn’t fit in with their plans.

  • The complete story ‘Why accepting help makes us happier’ can be found in Issue 27.

Text Catelijne Elzes Photography Margriet Hoekstra