Tis’ the season of giving. This time of the year is very dear to me. You can drive and see lights that decorate people’s homes softly glowing in the night. More importantly, there is a glowing light in people’s hearts. This time of the year challenges people to be more selfless and give to those in need. This kind of love for others should not just be reserved for Christmas, but practiced all-year long. I am not intending to write another cliché article about the true meaning of Christmas. I intend to make a case for giving— real, selfless, sacrificial giving.
A study conducted by Yeung, Zhang and Kim in 2017 yielded some very interesting findings. Participants engaged in self-oriented volunteering (volunteering aimed at bettering oneself by enhancing skills, etc.) and other-oriented volunteering (volunteering to help others out of altruistic motives or humanitarian concerns). The results were that both types of volunteering correlated with improved mental health, physical health, life satisfaction and social well-being. Volunteering had no effect on levels of depression (a topic I will talk more about soon). Other-oriented volunteering also had stronger correlations than self-oriented. Are you surprised?
I talk a lot about our social and relational nature. It is a key ingredient in the human person. Volunteering and similar activities get us connected to the experiences and presence of other human beings. In this context, it is not surprising that it can have a positive effect on other facets of health. I want to highlight the fact that other-oriented volunteering yielded stronger correlations than self-oriented. This goes back to the human person needing to be connected to others. While doing things to improve yourself is very healthy, we can move towards an unhealthy mindset.
This mindset is one where we are so wrapped in ourselves like a Christmas present that we get trapped in our minds, anxieties and concerns. It becomes our world and we suffer dearly because of it. Based on what I’ve studied about depression, this is a major dimension of it and leads me to reason why volunteering did not have an effect. With depression, you are in a bear trap. It takes intensive counseling, possibly medication and a reignited will that says I have had enough to finally break free. Volunteering alone can’t solve it. Good news is that you can prevent this from happening altogether by up keeping your mental health with methods such as volunteering. Here’s why.
Entering the world of others gives us fresh, different perspectives, potential for increased support and discovering how others worked to overcome their obstacles. We get inspired, invigorated and suddenly our world seems habitable again. You have to take that brave first step and move outside yourself. That is the spirit behind Christmas and what I encourage you to do. I am taking up this challenge myself. It is difficult, most worthwhile things are. However, the transformative results are well worth it as I am already finding out. Start to give this season and continue throughout the year. Give time, effort, money or whatever you have available to others. Giving really is a gift.
“No one is useless in this world who lightens the burdens of another.”
Referenced study can be found at: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5504679.