By Buck Mayden
I have found that the most gratifying thing I can do in life is to be a benefit to others. Few of us are immune to the frustrations and challenges of daily life—family problems, conflicts at work, illness, stress over money. When we get depressed or anxious, experts may recommend medication and therapy. But a newly emerging school of thought suggests that a simple, age-old principle may be part of both the prevention and the cure: Help others to help yourself.
New research suggests there may be a biochemical explanation for the positive emotions associated with doing good. In a recent study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science, participants’ brains were monitored by MRI scans while they made decisions about donating part of their research payment to charitable organizations. When participants chose to donate money, the brain’s mesolimbic system was activated, the same part of the brain that’s activated in response to monetary rewards, sex, and other positive stimuli. Choosing to donate also activated the brain’s subgenual area, the part of the brain that produces feel-good chemicals, like oxytocin, that promote social bonding.
“The best way to not feel hopeless is to get up and do something,” President Barack Obama said. “Don’t wait for good things to happen to you. If you go out and make some good things happen, you will fill the world with hope, you will fill yourself with hope.”
This is certainly true in my case. I have spent a good part of my life being selfish and it has been pretty lonely. I found that when I started to volunteer at Faith City Mission I not only brought hope to others but to myself as well. In addition, I have bonded with many people over the years I have been volunteering.
“On one hand, it’s striking that volunteering even occurs,” said Mark Snyder, a psychologist and head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota. “It seems to run against the strong dynamics of self-interest. There is simply nothing in society that says that someone is mandated to help anyone else.” Yet one in three adults do meaningful volunteer work on a sustained basis and the United States has one of the world’s highest rates of volunteerism.
I have also found that helping others increases my self-esteem and level of discipline and commitment. I suggest that if you are lonely, depressed, or feel uninspired try finding some time to do volunteer work or make a donation to your favorite charity and see what happens. I am living proof that helping other has long lasting and effective therapeutic results.
“When you reach out to those in need, do not be surprised if the essential meaning of something occurs,” said Stephen Richards, Goodreads author.