Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Feeling Down? Volunteer!

I'm sure you're familiar with the old saying that "it is better to give than to receive." This sounds good, but it actually turns out to be true. By giving – of your time, help, or money – you can improve your own happiness level and even your health. As a matter of fact, giving can be even better for the giver than the receiver.

I found this out reading an article about Dr. Stephen Post, who heads the Institute of Research on Unlimited Love at Case Western Reserve University. There he sponsors scientific studies on how doing good for others can help people lead healthier, happier, and even longer lives. But his interest in the subject started when he was a young boy growing up in Long Island, New York.

Whenever he would get restless or feel down in the dumps, his mother would say, "Well, Stevie, why don't you go out and help somebody?" So he would look around for something to do for someone, like helping a neighbor with a yard chore. And he discovered that helping others really did make him feel better and was rewarding. And that childhood lesson led him to his adult vocation.

Since then, many studies have shown the physical and emotional benefits of giving. There's even a kind of "helper's high" that shows up on MRI brain scans when people donate their time or help to others. In one case, when former heart patients were asked to visit current patients, just to listen and be supportive, those former patients had better health afterwards.

Another study found that seniors who gave their time to various causes tended to live longer. And a study done with high school students who were in a "service learning" program, where they were required to volunteer, showed their grades and moods actually improved.

So, why not give a little – and you'll get a lot!