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The Health Paradox: Helping Others Helps Us

Walking to raise awareness about liver disease

Walking to raise awareness about liver disease

When I was depressed and unemployed, people tried to get me to do volunteer work. I was mystified by this. If I couldn’t find a job, why would I immerse myself in a volunteer work? I would have less time for the job hunt. Granted, looking for a job was not a full-time occupation, but I really didn’t want to start a volunteer position somewhere and then leave it for a paid position.

However, I was missing the point. People who volunteer are happier and healthier. They are making contacts with others. People who give their time to others are making a difference. They are doing SOMETHING.  People who stay at home looking for a job can become isolated. Their lives may be empty, devoid of meaning. They can get lost in their heads, and begin to doubt themselves. Their health may deteriorate.  I experienced all of that.

Pick up a health magazine and “volunteering” is a suggestion for psychological well-being. Articles touting the benefits of volunteer work report that the simple act of giving of one’s self can boost longevity as well as overall health. The reasons for this are not known. There is some speculation that the act of doing for others serves to distract us from our own worries and concerns, which may improve our immune system. The social aspect of involvement in community activities provides support, camaraderie, and stimulates good feelings about one’s self.

There are no shortages of volunteer opportunities.  The trick is finding something you enjoy. What are your strengths and interests? Do you have a passion for the political arena or the health field? Do you prefer the tasks of envelope stuffing or office duties? Do you like to chat on the phone? Are you a public speaker? A fund-raiser? Do you write? Do you like the camaraderie that support groups provide? Do you like animals? Being outdoors?

Consider contributing your time and talents, whether it is an hour a month or an hour a week. Start out small with short-term, realistic goals. The rewards will be far greater than you can imagine.  In my case, volunteering opened the door to finding the job of a lifetime.

It started with a couple of hours a week. Sounds like a great return on an investment. Plus, I haven’t been depressed since.


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