For years I have been testing 11,000 patients on what is good for their body as well as their minds and souls. During the last year of my practice one thing showed up again and again for the majority of my patients. That was volunteering. Serving others with no thought for reward. After this came up so often I tested myself and it showed that I too needed to volunteer.
So I googled volunteer opportunities in the Twin Cities, and as I was scrolling down the list, when I got to “being a playologist at the Children’s Museum” my heart literally burned and felt like it was jumping out of my chest. So I got the one day training and started going there 2 or 3 times a month. They were curious about me because I was the only white male over 50 that they had volunteer there. I said I loved playing with my kids, and enjoy getting on the floor with my young patients and playing with them. I felt like besides the practical things like letting them in the laser tag or saying that they were next on the slide, I was just being Present with them. Just holding space and seeing Light in and around them. This was a great joy, and I felt really tired after my 4 hour shift, but a good tired, like I really invested my energy into them.
So meaning grows not just from conversation, of course, but also from action. One recent study randomly assigned 10th graders to volunteer weekly with elementary students — to help with homework, cooking, sports, or arts and crafts — or put them on a wait list.
Teenagers who volunteered had lower levels of inflammation, better cholesterol profiles and lower body mass index. Those who had the biggest jumps in empathy and altruism scores had the largest reductions in cardiovascular risk.
Engaging in these kinds of activities may be most important for individuals whose identity is in flux, like parents with children leaving for college or workers preparing for retirement. A program run by Experience Corps, an organization that trains older adults to tutor children in urban public schools, has shown marked improvements in mental and physical health among tutors. The improvements included higher self-esteem, more social connectedness, and better mobility and stamina. (The children do better, too.)
Altruism is most commonly thought of as a selfless act that benefits the recipient. However, the science behind good deeds suggests that altruism isn’t entirely selfless. In fact, some research suggests that helpers may gain more from their altruistic acts than recipients. Altruism helps reduce negative feelings. People who give to others have better life adjustment overall and tend to see life as more meaningful. Altruism is associated with better marital relationships, a decreased sense of hopelessness, less depression, increased physical health, and enhanced self-esteem
The positive energy that you feel from doing a good deed can act on your body in much the same way that exercise does, releasing endorphins that make you feel good naturally. That’s why the “rush” that good deed-doers sometimes experience after performing an altruistic act is referred to as the “helper’s high.”
I have told several people to start volunteering, and mentioned that besides the help they offer others, they will actually meet a new class of people. The others who volunteer will naturally be more selfless and kind and giving, and these are the new kinds of friends they could make. So if you are lonely, which has been connected to a whole list of mental and physical health risks, then volunteer.
Also if you are unemployed and haven’t found work and have a lot of free time on your hand, then volunteering is a great way to prime the pump. You may learn new skills, you may be noticed by the organization which may lead to new opportunities, you will have yet another positive experience to add to your resume, and you may burn off some karma that will result in new options for your own mission.
I have noticed that people who retire can fall apart physically when they have no purpose. So older people who volunteer have greater self esteem and health and have a real purpose to their life.
I recently met a woman who had no children. But she sponsored a Tibetan child to go to school. Now that girl is in nursing school and asked if she can continue sponsoring her until she graduates and has a job. The woman feels like she has a daughter and without her help that girl would not have become a nurse, and all the benefits that the nurse does for her patients, will reflect to the woman who sponsored her.
I see a big shift in society over the last few decades. When college students have spring break, many would go to a beach place and get drunk and party. But now I am noticing more youth seeking meaning, and will spend their breaks working at an orphanage in a foreign country. I see many church groups focusing on mission trips to serve others, where converting others to their religion is not the primary goal.
It is interesting that a growing number of billionaires are signing a pledge to give half of their wealth away to help people who are suffering. It is not binding, so who knows if they will actually do it, but the fact that it is being discussed at all is amazing, instead of yet another yacht they may actually help in the education of the under privileged.
Even though giving should really just be for the sake of giving, there is a universal law that everything you do or give for the benefit of others, without seeking compensation, come back to you multiplied. That is why many swear about the power of tithing. You give a certain percentage of all your income to help some person or cause that you feel is doing the most good. So traditionally you would give 10% to a church and then God would multiply it by 10 and give it back to you. But it doesn’t have to be a church, but anything you feel serves life. I found that when I forgot to tithe my income would slow down and as soon as I gave, even when I felt lack, things always picked right back up again.
All religions promote the care and assistance of others, even if they are not part of your group. Jesus parable of the Good Samaritan shows the love of the stranger by the samaritan was greater than the priests who took no time or effort for someone in trouble. He said to love your neighbor as yourself. When you get to this level of understanding you can see that we are all like fingers on the same hand. You are ultimately the same self, God, that is in every other self. Thus you naturally love your neighbor or stranger as yourself, because truly the other is your self. It is that level of compassion that is most important on the earth, and may actually save the planet.
The age of Aquarius we are entering is all about community and inclusiveness. We see prejudice and taking advantage of others as something from another time. Let’s imagine a world where money is not the primary motive and the thing we are measured by. But the quality of love and compassion from our hearts is who we are. We can’t expect governments to be the ones to provide help to all those in need. We need to find what our unique gifts are and how we can lay down those gifts on the altar of humanity and nature. Let us strive towards selfless service. So my challenge to you is, find somewhere to volunteer this year, even if only for one day. You may enjoy it so much, you will likely want to do it again and again.