Photo by Matt Collamer on Unsplash

On my recent radio show on KUCI 88.9fm, I interviewed Willie Baronet, Stan Richards Professor in Creative Advertising at Southern Methodist University, Creator at “WE ARE ALL HOMELESS” and the documentary, Signs of Humanity. Willie shared how he has been buying and collecting homeless signs since 1993; this is a long-term art project titled “WE ARE ALL HOMELESS.” In 2014, Willie set out on a 31-day cross country trip to buy signs from homeless people in 24 cities; this became the subject of the documentary Signs of Humanity, which premiered at the Dallas International Film Festival and has been accepted into seven other festivals. The conversations Willie had with homeless people across the country were emotionally moving and eye opening. Many people ignore the homeless, fear them, even berate them. Very few do what Willie did – show compassion, empathy, and humanity. Willie says, “My relationship to the homeless has been powerfully and permanently altered. The conversations and connections have left an indelible mark on my heart. I still wrestle with personal questions regarding generosity, goodness, compassion, and guilt. And what it means to be homeless: practically, spiritually, emotionally?”

This holiday season, put your talents, time and kindness to work by reaching out to local organizations and people in need. Nothing says “mood booster” more than the selfless act of giving.

Volunteer at a homeless shelter, soup kitchen, nonprofit, or pediatric cancer center. There are numerous organizations that need help. Toss your personal baggage for a few hours and focus on someone or something else. Our wounds can run deep and redirecting our pain and emotions can be cathartic and healing. Don’t be a bystander in life. Help others. Be tuned in to what is happening in your surroundings and see where you can be of service. We all get wrapped up in our own ‘stuff’ and think some of our problems are monumental, when in fact, they can be minuscule compared to the weight of the world felt by others.

In a 2015 article by Stephanie Wilson, previous Executive Editor of Harvard Women’s Health Watch, Stephanie says that volunteering can be beneficial for your mind and body. She points out that, “evidence of volunteerism’s physical effects can be found in a recent study from Carnegie Mellon University, published this month in Psychology and Aging. Adults over age 50 who volunteered on a regular basis were less likely to develop high blood pressure than non-volunteers. High blood pressure is an important indicator of health because it contributes to heart disease, stroke, and premature death.”

What have you done to help others? If the answer is nada, well, what could you do?

If you are struggling with some monumental issues, taking a mental vacation from your world and bringing some goodness into someone else’s life can do wonders for you and the recipient. The opportunities are endless. Giving your time and energy can make a big difference. You just might realize that your own situation is not such a mess after all. In giving to others, you’ll see a shift in your perspective and develop a compassionate, empathetic heart. It’s a win-win.

If you are fortunate enough to have a meaningful career, and your life is all about helping others and giving back, you have figured out a career designed with compassion and empathy. Sometimes people go through a personal trauma that affects their emotional and physical well-being; this experience impacts them personally and professionally, and they change in ways they never imagined. They experience a shift in their lives that allows them to be a part of something meaningful and fulfilling, and to create a life mission focusing less on themselves and more on what they can do for others. They might even set out to redesign their life to include numerous acts of kindness and generosity of time and spirit.

A great way to take a break from whatever it is you are dealing with is to step away from your situation and help others, because bringing joy and happiness to someone else’s life makes your life a little brighter. Volunteering, giving your time to charities and organizations that need you and your talents, is a selfless act of kindness.

When life shakes us up, oftentimes we find the bravery and drive to start new adventures. Deep down inside we might be unfulfilled, worn out and beaten down, but that is the time to start anew.

We can feel like a part of us is fading away and there is a void in our meaningful endeavors and professional life. The beautiful thing is that these shifts in perspective come about unexpectedly. Even though we tirelessly search for meaning and happiness, they are not so easily found. When we redesign our lives to think less about ourselves and more about others, and what we can contribute and help with, there is a positive change; the focus shifts away from ourselves and our current situations, and we adopt more of a selfless attitude.

Giving back to others is a tremendous way to step outside of your own life and bring joy and happiness to others; it gets you out of your own cluttered, messy head space. Instead of worrying about your own stuff, give your time and energy to others in need. It is a great way to redirect your energy; it might even give you some direction in life. Getting involved with organizations and people aligned with your values and interests is a great way to shift your mindset. You will end up meeting new people, feeling good about yourself, and having a sense of purpose. There is a lot to offer at any age. Just when you think your situation cannot get any worse, if you take a break to do something for someone else or a group of people, you just might figure out how to make sense of your own life.

Answers to our trickiest, most complex issues can come to us when we least expect them to.

Volunteer your time, talents, and energy; it’s good for you and it’s good for the recipients. Volunteer at a retirement home, a hospital, a school, a food bank, or an animal shelter, foster a pet, help out at a local school, drop off food and clothing to donation centers, offer to deliver meals to the elderly or feed the homeless during the year or the holidays. Start a toy or food drive. Clean out your closet and donate to organizations that help others. Whatever you do, just do something with the experiences, resources, and time you have. Because sometimes the best gift you can give is your compassion, kindness and empathy.

Adapted from Janeane’s new book, Get the Funk Out! %^&$ Happens,
What to Do Next! 
© 2019 by Janeane Bernstein. Published by Post Hill Press
— Published on July 25, 2019


  • Janeane Bernstein, EdD

    Journalist | Mental Health Advocate | Author


    Janeane Bernstein, Ed.D. is a journalist, mental health advocate, and radio host with KUCI 88.9fm.  She was a 2021 Age Boom Academy Fellow with the Robert N. Butler Columbia Aging Center & Columbia Journalism. Her first book, GET THE FUNK OUT, %^&* HappensWhat to Do Next!  offers strategies and life lessons on ways to nurture self-care and resilience through life’s curveballs. Janeane speaks to students and adults about self-care, mental health, resilience, the CARE Initiative, and more. Her latest podcast & event series, OUTSIDE THE BOX, focuses on mental health and wellness for all ages. Her next book, BETTER HUMANS - What the Mental Health Pandemic Teaches Us About Humanity will be published by Post Hill Press & Simon & Schuster. | |