This time of year we all tend to get that little reminder of what the holidays are all about - family, friends, togetherness - and of course, gratitude. This is not your yearly reminder to be grateful…because I know you all better than that. You already know!
I recently have been feeling a bit on the off side - not really finding a lot of joy in my day to day activities. So when I reflected before writing this, considering what I am grateful for, my answer fell a little flat. Not to sound like a total brat, but I couldn’t think of a whole lot besides the typical “my family, my health, etc.” It felt canned and not very genuine. Of course I am grateful for those things. But what else in my life can I truly feel gratitude for?
Do you find yourself feeling like this? Like you’re falling a bit short in the gratitude department? I want to FEEL it. Feel the waves of emotion of just how much I am thankful for. It could be just a phase I am going through at the moment with lots of life changes going on that are stressing me out. Or, it could be something deeper. Perhaps I am not feeling gratitude because I am not feeling worth the gratitude. I am not sure if that completely makes sense or not, but I kind of feel like the fascination with gratitude these days has less to do with being thankful, and more to do with what we have. That doesn’t sit quite right with me for some reason.
Since we are in the season of giving thanks, I wonder if I focus more on the giving part maybe I will feel a little more grateful. There is a certain pride and joy I feel when I do something for someone, whether they need it or not, and I think I am lacking that right now. I was raised to volunteer. From the ripe old age of 7 I was volunteering with my parents for things like Christmas in April or Habitat for Humanity. I was also a youth group leader as a young adult and would often volunteer at hospices or senior homes, bringing food or even singing choir songs. It was incredibly fulfilling.
Once I started a family of my own, those activities fell away. I did volunteer endlessly for my own children’s classrooms or sports activities, but now that my children are in college and high school, those opportunities don’t present themselves quite as much. Toss in a pandemic and all of those came to a screeching halt. My children have volunteered through their girl scouts and school organizations, but I want them to really feel the gratitude of giving.
I have found a few near me that will allow kids, and I am already reaching out. I did a deep dive into places I could volunteer with my son, since my daughter is away at school for most of the year. There aren’t a lot of places we can go where they will let kids under 16 do very much. There are a lot of places that need money, which I am happy to give what little extra I have, but it isn’t the same. I want to look into people’s eyes and feel that empathy and joy together.
Research has shown that volunteering provides many benefits to both mental and physical health. And while I know you all work in a field that is a giving profession by nature. But if you can give through volunteering without the expectation of a paycheck, you will have a much different result in your mental health.
Volunteering has been shown to reduce stress, anger, and anxiety. The connections you are able to make, either through helping others or working with others with common values can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being. The benefits of these connections, the visible results of your efforts, and the confidence you gain is immeasurable. Working with pets and other animals has also been shown to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
Volunteering can also combat depression. Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system, which in turn protects you against depression. By measuring hormones and brain activity, being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure, delivering serotonin and dopamine to our systems. Human beings are hard-wired to give to others. The more we give, the happier we feel.
It’s like the perfect medicine! It can increase self confidence, your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity and give you a positive view of your life and future goals. You will likely feel a sense of purpose and can even find new meaning and direction in life. Studies have also found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not. Volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease.
All of these positives seem like a no brainer for me. I think I am clear on what’s missing for me right now and it is very clearly GIVING.
If you are maybe in the same boat as I am, and need some suggestions on where you might volunteer, here are some great charities.
Habitat for Humanity, Maternal Mental Health Now, Los Angeles Food Bank, Los Angeles Zoo, local animal shelters, local senior centers, hospice facilities, and even local churches (whether you are religious or not).
I am looking forward to a new season of gratitude - the gratitude I can feel through giving to others. I hope you had a wonderful holiday and are inspired to experience gratitude through giving.