Do a favour a day

Have you ever done someone a good turn and then waited for them to repay the favour? If you have, you have done it for all the wrong reasons. It is a common fault of us all to expect something in return if we have offered to help someone. People sometimes seem to keep a mental score of how many favours they have done, as if the more they do the greater their reward will be. Doing someone a favour does give you a reward, but not in a material way. Expecting some kind of payback is a quick way to disappointment and resentment – a guaranteed way of stopping you doing favours in the future. There are key points about such favours:

• Do them for the right reason – because you want to. Any other reason is the wrong one.

• Never expect anything in return. Keep the favour anonymous if you want, then you know it is for the right reason.

• Remember how good you feel when you do a favour. This is your reward, and it is a deep, long-lasting one.

• Favours don’t have to be large or dramatic. There is just as much satisfaction to be gained from little acts of kindness as there is from very obvious large gestures.

• People often remember kindness and you may get some reward in the future because of this. As you are not expecting this, it is all the more pleasant when it happens – the ‘double reward’ effect.

At the start of my career as a family doctor, I helped a family cope with their mother who was critically ill. I must have done a number of small favours at the time but within a few weeks had forgotten all about them. Many years later I was looking after someone from the same family, and made the most monumental cock-up with their care. The person concerned was understandably intensely angered by this, and I sat down with him for an open and honest discussion about what had gone wrong. After weighing up what I had said, he agreed it was an honest mistake and no harm had ultimately come of it. The crunch came as he stood up to leave. Looking me straight in the eye, he said, ‘I knew you were trying your best because of what you did for Mum.’ After he had left I tried to think back to what I had done all those years before, but it was fruitless. He had remembered, I had forgotten, but it had helped me in a way I could never have imagined.

The next time you think ‘I want something back’ after doing a favour, give yourself a slap on the wrist. It is only when you do favours for others and not for yourself that you will find your stress falling each time.

Do somebody a favour every day, even if it is as small as offering a seat on a bus or doing the sandwich run at lunchtime. Favours cost nothing but you will feel better for doing them.

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