“In giving you are throwing a bridge across the chasm of your solitude.” Antoine de Sainte-Exupery
The Benefits of Giving
The holiday season is often thought of as the giving season, but finding opportunities to serve others year round can help us stay grounded, hopeful, optimistic and connected to others. Helping others not only feels good, it has lasting health benefits. According to recent research, reviewed in this report, volunteering is linked to increased health, overall well-being, and decreased mortality.
Serving others appears to fortify us against the ups and downs we may experience in life, including loneliness, depression and stress.
Benefits of Giving
- feeling valued
- a sense of purpose and belonging
- connection to others
- a sense of community
- improving lives
- strengthening interpersonal skills
- strengthening communication skills
- exploring our gifts and talents
- transforming our own lives
Giving and Gratitude
Giving is linked to gratitude. When we give, we acknowledge our place in the land of enough. We believe we can afford to share, not just money or things, but also our time, energy, love and support. We also increase our feelings of gratitude when we serve others who do without many of the things we take for granted.
While serving others can provide a wealth of benefits, we won’t experience any of them if we’re over-extending ourselves. It’s important to remember serving others does not mean sacrificing self care or focusing on others to the detriment of one’s own well being. Before you can care for others, you must first care for yourself.
The first step for many of us is finding time for serving others without feeling overwhelmed. Clearly defining your priorities can help.
One way to determine your priorities is to ask yourself, “How would I spend my time if I had only one year to live?” If the joy, connectedness and pleasure of knowing you’ve helped others fits into your priorities, look for things that take time away from what’s important in your life and start eliminating.
Decide what type of giving opportunity fits you best
What do you love to do?
Who do you enjoy spending time with?
What are your gifts, your skills?
Brainstorm ideas for giving to others. List anything that comes to mind regardless of the practicality of it.
What themes stand out for you?
Find local volunteering opportunities at Volunteer Match. A quick search in my zip code pulled up 633 opportunities ranging from online college mentor, to animal foster parent, to helping a group of elementary students transform their dilapidated courtyard into a butterfly garden.
You might send someone a thoughtful, handwritten note. If you enjoy cooking, you could drop off a homemade loaf of bread or invite a neighbor to dinner.If you prefer something more low key, think about neighbors, acquaintances, or friends you could help.
Check out Charity Navigator, if you’d like to donate to an organization. Charity Navigator is an independent organization that evaluates charities based on their stewardship of donor funds. One of my favorite charities is KIVA, a micro-lending organization focused on eliminating poverty.
Making it work for you
Now that you have an idea of what you’d like to do, decide how much time you’d like to devote to serving others weekly or monthly.
Start slowly. You can always add more later. Right now, focus on finding the right fit, the amount of time that works best for you and the particular opportunity you’d like to focus on.
Enlist the support of others. Talk about your ideas with others, ask for input or suggestions. Consider asking your family or friends to join you in your first act of service. Explain the benefits to them and ask for their support as you make giving a priority in your life.
Don’t be afraid to try different ideas. You may try something once and decide it’s not for you. Don’t give up, try something else. It may take some time to find the right fit.
Commit to one act of service within the next week. After you’ve completed it, assess it. Did you enjoy it? Do you think you’ll enjoy it more when you’ve done it a few times and feel more comfortable with it? Did it take more time than you had allotted? Are there things you can tweak to make the experience better for you?
I’d love to hear your input on serving others. What other ways can we serve others outside of formal volunteering? How do you incorporate serving others into your life? Let me know in the comments section or on twitter.