Why Giving Back Helps Keep You Healthy

dany_keithMost people are satisfied with their contributions to their community, but there may be a bigger reason those that volunteer do so with such fervor. Studies indicate people that volunteer in their communities experience longer lives, better relationships with their families and a stronger sense of social connection. Veritable nutrition ingestion for the soul.

The human soul (to quote C.S. Lewis “You don’t have a soul, you are a soul. You have a body”) cannot be disputed; it’s only what happens in death that becomes discussion. Nonetheless, people require balance between body and soul in order to sustain and live happy lives. The human soul craves connections with other souls. Interacting and supporting another human is nourishment for the soul.

When you donate time at your kid’s school, the local food bank, disabled veterans or working with the elderly, you are refueling your soul, which can provide you hormonal releases of oxytocin (the helper’s high) combating the feelings of depression triggered by opposing hormones epinephrine and cortisol. When we lock away our altruism, we cannot flourish. It has been proven that volunteering in some capacity can be addicting, continuing their efforts searching for that next high. Depending on where your volunteering takes you, recipients are often shown to be more hopeful, have increased self esteem and decreased anxiety overall completing the circle.

I have seen this firsthand in my interactions with the youth of Santa Cruz County through Grind Out Hunger. What started out as a challenge to make a difference has turned into a full-blown movement. Kids in general are altruistic; we have all seen a toddler help their friends up when they fall, or comfort another friend on a playground after a scrape.

As humans age, need and natural awareness of the social circle and the souls around us diminishes for some. Maybe as we age we cannot be bothered to contribute any of our valuable time. In my travels around the county seeing all levels of schools from well off to below poverty there was one main theme that resonated … kids will help kids. No matter how much they actually donated, they felt fulfilled— part of the solution, empowered, solving the problem (in this case childhood hunger) placed in front of them.

In many ways, when you give of yourself to someone that is less fortunate, you actually are getting something in return. The human soul thrives on appreciation, adoration and the feeling of actually comforting another person even if it’s only momentary (such as giving a significant other a hug). It also can be said by interacting with the less fortunate, we somehow create a more introspective review of our own lives and abilities to accept our own challenges. Whether they be health, finance or relationship related, those that volunteer are more aware of their own issues and how to cope with them more effectively.

Visiting the schools, the message is one of altruism—paying it forward, finding something that gives you back tenfold of what you put in.

While I personally challenge childhood hunger, I tell the kids they need to find something that gives them that same passion, maybe caring for the elderly, cancer patients; developmentally disabled kids … the possibilities are endless. Moreover the message is that it doesn’t require much time, but more a mentality, a way of life if you will, ultimately making your life better. In the end, all we have is each other and it sure does feel good knowing that the people you volunteer for will have hope … and for me that is payment enough.

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