Every day, people make decisions about whether to act like givers or like takers. When we act like givers, we contribute to others without seeking anything in return. We might offer assistance, share knowledge, or make unexpectedly valuable contributions. When we act like takers, we try to get other people to serve our ends while carefully guarding our own time and resources.
The benefits of giving are far-reaching, while taking can be detrimental to our overall well-being and performance.
In case you missed it, some of the benefits of giving were recently outlined in a Los Gatos Teen Therapy newsletter entitled “How Volunteering Benefits Your Teen” (4/6/2016). Some of the benefits mentioned are that volunteering:
- Is humbling
- Keeps teens out of trouble
- Gets teens out of the house
- Develops skills and interests
- Builds responsibility and accountability
- Fosters critical thinking, inventiveness, and leadership
- Enhances social skills and relationships
- Gives college applications a boost
- Elevates self-esteem and sense of purpose
- Is good for mental and physical health
Both tangible and intangible benefits come from giving to others. The intangible benefits alone—pride, satisfaction, and accomplishment—are worthwhile reasons to help others, especially for teens. These are sentiments that many teens do not feel in any other area of their lives. Having the opportunity to experience a feeling of competence in a setting outside of school is invaluable. When we share our time and talents, we are improving the lives of others while simultaneously transforming our own lives in a more positive direction. When we do this selfless work and receive these benefits, it paves the way for long-lasting improved mood, and – dare I say – happiness.
Can doing something nice for someone else really help us feel better? Could it really be that simple? Research says yes, it actually is that simple. A growing body of research has shown that one of the best ways to overcome depression is to get out there and help others. Practicing random acts of kindness otherwise known as “positive activity interventions,” that are as basic as helping someone, getting food for a friend, writing a thank you note, or even practicing gratitude – can serve as an effective, low-cost treatment for depression.
For people struggling with depression, opportunities to feel positive emotions in their lives can make a big difference, even if it’s just a minute here or there. Depressed people often feel either negative emotions or a sense of no emotion at all. The introduction of something positive can be a new and rewarding sensation. It can not only make a difference in the moment, but it can create an upward spiral of positivity, where one experience of positivity leads to additional experiences of positivity. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at University of California, Riverside says, “In general, people who help others stop focusing on their own pains and problems and worries and feel good about themselves.”
Why is helping others so good for us? Well, partly because any time we are interacting with others, it provides an opportunity for social connections, and humans are social animals. We are hard-wired to want face-to-face contact, and when a smile is thrown in, the experience is even better. Face-to-face interactions release a hormone called oxytocin, which helps us bond to and care for others, and also helps us handle stress better. Volunteering is a good way to meet others, make friends, and connect over common beliefs and goals while getting a good kick of oxytocin to help us feel a deeper sense of happiness.
The only catch to all of this is that research has found that volunteering only has health benefits for people who do it to help others, rather than to help themselves. Therefore, the best thing you can do is find a cause that you care about and help people simply because you want to. The previously mentioned benefits will come along naturally, and pretty soon, volunteering will become as essential to you as your morning cup of coffee!
You may wonder how to get your teen started. Below are some steps parents can take to get their teens to start giving:
- Volunteer together. Find something that you can do as a family. When your family volunteers together, you get the reward of quality family time while setting a good example for your teens. You and your teens get the added satisfaction of being a contributing member of the community.
- Help your teens find their strengths. If your teens love animals, help them get connected to the SPCA or another nearby animal shelter. If they love plants or flowers, there are a lot of organizations that use volunteers to make flower arrangements to brighten the day of those in the hospital. If they live far from their grandparents, they can volunteer at an old folks home. The ideas are as wide-reaching as your teen’s talents!
- Expand upon your teens’ talents. If your teens play a sport, maybe they can teach sports to younger children with special needs. If they have computer skills, they can volunteer at the local library to teach the elderly how to use a computer or the internet. Ask them what they enjoy most, and then help them connect their hobbies with volunteering.
- Be creative. If your teens enjoy artwork, have them donate some of their art to an organization that brings artwork along with Meals on Wheels. If they love the beach, have them participate in beach clean-up day. They can also do a charity walk in support of their favorite cause.
- Practice everyday kindness. There is a cyclical nature to giving and receiving. Ask them what kind thing they have done for someone that day, and if anyone has done anything nice for them. Instilling a giving, helping spirit will teach them step up when someone else needs help in the future.
Go to Volunteer Match and get started!
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TEEN THERAPY CENTER CAN HELP!
Would you like additional guidance in this area? Teen Therapy Center provides individual teen therapy, family therapy, group therapy, parent support counseling, and in-home teen and family coaching 7 days a week, including afternoons, evenings, and weekends. For more information, contact us at 408.389.3538.