There is growing evidence that giving to others can serve as a powerful form of self-care. Research shows that spending time on other people can boost our happiness, increase activity in the reward-processing areas of the brain, and even give us a greater sense of “time affluence” — making us feel like we have more time in our day, rather than less. Simply put, improving the lives of others feels good, and in turn, can improve our lives and well-being, too.
We asked members of the Thrive community to share ways that giving to others can feel like an act of self-care. Their stories speak to the power of gratitude, and will make you want to give back, too.
Volunteer with the ones you love
“Once a month for the last few years, my youngest son and I volunteer on Sunday afternoons at our local Feed the Hungry program. Over 500 people are given a warm healthy meal — which, for most of them, is their only meal each week. This type of charity work is so tangible — it’s in-the-moment interactions with people in our community. Service to others is important in our family, so I wanted my children to embrace this virtue and give back in a meaningful way. After every shift, I feel it is the most important work of my week and I crave more. There is an energy and lightness I feel that fuels me to tackle the days ahead with a fresh perspective and gratitude.”
—Lara Smith, CEO, Calgary, Canada
Offer comfort to others
“When I am feeling low and disconnected, I can easily lift my spirit and regain connection by reaching out to others. Having a servant’s heart not only helps others, but also brings me to a place of peace, allowing me to get out of my own head. I practice giving as self-care by offering Reiki to bring comfort to others, which, in turn, allows me to share my love and light. I also volunteer for an organization that helps families facing homelessness. This is an opportunity for me to walk in gratitude — another form of self-care — and appreciate all that I have.”
—April McGinnis, project manager, Brownsburg, IN
Donate your time
“During the last five summers, I have volunteered in the kitchen of a camp at Martha’s Vineyard. At first, it was just to go to Martha’s Vineyard. Now, I find that it is the most important week of my year. I return with an incredible feeling of purpose and gratitude. I have gained so many like-minded friendships from the experience. Without the volunteers, the religious organization that runs the camp would not be able to operate it. I leave in two weeks for my sixth year of participation, and I can’t wait!”
—Jenny Trostel, director of development, Baltimore, MD
Serve as a mentor
“I spend a substantial amount of time mentoring young girls from underrepresented and economically disadvantaged communities. Some of them take three buses to get to school, and work very hard to change their circumstances; they are all so motivated, driven, and dedicated. I conduct several regular workshops and sessions to encourage them, connect them with opportunities, and serve as a sounding board when they need a listening ear. Investing a few hours of my time is deeply satisfying, and I feel rewarded for having influenced them in a positive way. In turn, this makes me feel grateful for all that I have in my own life.”
—Vinutha Narayan, global head of strategic initiatives and special projects, San Francisco, CA
Slow down when someone needs your help
“I was about to launch a new business that I had spent years working on when life offered me a better opportunity: Take care of my mom. Her spinal pain had gotten so bad that she decided to risk it all and have a life-threatening surgery that might relieve it. Talk about brave. I packed up and moved to Nashville to be by her side. The surgery was successful! I helped her through a very tough year of rehabilitation. She told me I was her hero, but actually she was mine, and still is to this day. Focusing on her gave me a new perspective — she wasn’t the only one who healed. Now, my life is full of hope again. By the way — that original business venture has been redesigned to make a difference, not just money.”
—Todd Garrett, marketing, Nashville, TN
Engage in random acts of kindness
“You cannot spell give without ‘I’ve.’ Giving serves as a reminder of all you have. Giving comforts and creates a connection to others. One way I give is by offering a smile to a person who appears sad. Sometimes, I enjoy purchasing smiley face balloons that I then leave in friend’s yards. Other times, I pay for the groceries of the person in front of me, by slipping my card to the cashier (who always respects my wish to not disclose who has paid). Most importantly, I extend gratitude in the form of daily words and weekly flowers to my wife.”
—Adrienne Ione, health practitioner, Tacoma, WA
Lean into others in times of loss
“It’s been three weeks and four days since I lost my father unexpectedly from complications after a fall. I was lucky to have several visits and conversations with him before things went awry, along with many memories. But I have felt as if I’m pushing through water these last weeks. Everything is harder and slower. So today, I spent my lunch hour smiling and buying cute backpacks and school supplies for the Backpack Lady Project for local kids. Don’t crayons make everybody smile? I enjoyed escaping into the sunshine, and I realized some kids who receive these items don’t have a dad at all. It’s true: There’s always somebody hurting worse than you.”
—Teresa Collins, purchasing manager, Indian Shores, FL
Offer a helping hand
“I created a weekly pool workout for my friend, who spends his days in a wheelchair due to multiple sclerosis. The poolside lift at the YMCA allows me to transfer his body into the pool and then — voila! —the water removes gravity! He works super hard, grunting and straining while I hands-on support him through an hour’s worth of leg curls, squats, knee lifts, swimming, and even a bit of unassisted walking (which he hasn’t been able to enjoy in over 10 years). I bend and stretch his stiff legs, joints, and ankles between sets to provide rest breaks and improve his flexibility. He expresses gratitude throughout the hour, and it puts me in a state of gratitude for the rest of the day! My friend’s positive attitude makes everyone he touches grateful for our own health, and more aware of how lucky most of us are to be able-bodied.”
—Frances Miyamoto, writer and health coach, Venice, CA
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