And it’s not just an airy-fairy feel-good thought!  Even though we didn’t need actual studies for this, I always like them J  But anyone who’s ever volunteered or given back in any way knows the huge benefits of the power of giving.

Young volunteer in retirement house

We talk a lot about the serotonin rise when doing something good for someone.  We can get that in big or little ways—huge acts or small ones. 

I do a lot with my dogs.  And one of those things is having therapy dogs.  I’ve had two—one of whom, Hubbard, has long since gone to his reward.  But Harper Lee is still active (she’d go far more than I find time to!) and loves it.  Both were certified through Therapy Dogs International.

We do nursing-home visits, as most folks would rather spend time with kids recovering than being with the oldsters.  There is a drawback to the latter—anyone who’s ever spent much time in nursing homes doesn’t need the litany of how depressing they can be.  And oh, is that usually the case . . .

But the funny thing is, no matter how sad the experience at first, I always come out uplifted in the end.  When an aide says, for instance, “Mrs. Wilkerson hasn’t spoken since you were here last time,” after the tiny wheelchair-bound lady has talked and talked to my dog.

The residents rarely if ever remember my name.  Shoot, a lot of them can no longer tell you their own names.  But they always remember the dog’s.

I was walking into Wal-Mart one day, and here came out Mrs. Volak, her son pushing her wheelchair.  And she said with great glee, “Oh, look—it’s Hubbard’s mother!”

Did that make my day or what!

But of course, all anecdotal evidence notwithstanding, I still love the science backing this up 🙂  Here are just a few ways giving enhances your life:

1. Giving back eases anxiety and depression. Yes, of course we already know this.    But researchers at Boston College showed that the ‘helper’s high’ is real.  The neural glow from helping others actually shows up on MRIs.  Pain and depression decrease after volunteering.  Cool!

2. Overall health is Boosted. I just love this.  A university of California-Los Angeles research study found that volunteering actually helps you live longer.  Even teenagers who get involved in service and volunteering are much happier and more optimistic.  And if you can get that from a teenager with hormones skyrocketing to Mars all the time . . .

3. Volunteering helps you to stay Optimistic.  Seems like a contradiction in terms, no?  By definition this means working with folks less fortunate.  Whether illness, homelessness, whatever strait they find themselves in, the reality is somewhat depressing.

Many, many years ago, I was an executive for the American Cancer Society (a great place to volunteer!).  My job was organizing volunteers to carry out all our programs.  And it didn’t matter what a mess their “real” lives were in, as soon as they started in on whatever project, they became all smiles and laughter.  I watched this time and time again.  The very act of volunteering kept them so much more joyful in all aspects of their lives.

Of course, as our mothers always told us, “Tis better to give than receive.”  And now we have scientific proof that doing so, just for giving, is quite likely the best medicine in the world!

As call-in radio talk-show Bernard Meltzer said, “There is no better exercise for your heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up.”

How do you give back?




Leave a Reply