Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Got the Winter Blues? Giving May Cheer You Up

"I have found that among its other benefits, giving liberates the soul of the giver."--Maya Angelou

In December 2007, the New York Sun article, Why Giving Makes You Happy reported that:

"According to the Social Capital Community Benchmark Survey, a survey of 30,000 American households, people who gave money to charity in 2000 were 43% more likely than non-givers to say they were 'very happy' about their lives.

Similarly, volunteers were 42% more likely to be very happy than non-volunteers. It didn't matter whether gifts of money and time went to churches or symphony orchestras — givers to all types of religious and secular causes were far happier than non-givers."

Now maybe you're thinking, "I bet they were happier because they had extra money and time to give--which I don't," but a 2006 study found that the good feelings we get from giving are biological. According to the Washington Post article, If It Feels Good to Be Good, It Might Only Be Natural, another study found that when,
"volunteers placed the interests of others before their own, the generosity activated a primitive part of the brain that usually lights up in response to food or sex. Altruism, the experiment suggested, was not a superior moral faculty that suppresses basic selfish urges but rather was basic to the brain, hard-wired and pleasurable."
According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, volunteering also has health benefits. Here are a few factoids from their site:

"Volunteer work improves the well being of individual volunteers because it enhances social support networks. People with strong social support networks have lower premature death rates, less heart disease, and fewer health risk factors. (Fact Sheet: Volunteering as a Vehicle for Social Support and Life Satisfaction, Public Health Agency of Canada)

Volunteering can improve self-esteem, reduce heart rates and blood pressure, increase endorphin production, enhance immune systems, buffer the impact of stress, and combat social isolation. (Research Summary: Graff, L. (1991). Volunteer for the Health of It, Etobicoke, Ontario: Volunteer Ontario.)

Volunteering lowers the risk of physical ill health because it boosts the social psychological factors that healthy people have. (The Effects of Volunteering on the Volunteer, John Wilson and Marc Musik, 62 Law & Contemp. Probs., Autumn 1999)"

There are so many resources available to help you give time, money, skills and stuff, it could probably fill a phone book. Here are just a handful of resources to get you started:

Time: VolunteerMatch is a great place to start looking for a volunteer opportunity.

Money: If you want to search by issue for a cause to support, Network for Good and Global Giving are two places to start. I'm a big fan of Kiva too.

Skills: SCORE (Counselors to America's Small Business) facilitates volunteer mentors' giving advice to aspiring entrepreneurs.

Things: Find a Goodwill or public library near you to donate clothes and books.

Giving doesn't have to be through an organization or institution. Small acts of kindness count too.

The Random Acts of Kindness Foundation has named February 11-17, 2008 Random Acts of Kindness Week. They have e-cards you can send, guides and lesson plans to download, and graphics you can print as posters, stickers, t-shirts, etc.

Abigail Beal of Step by Step Fundraising posted a few ideas for how to participate:
  • Hold a door open for someone.
  • Write a thank you note to someone who helped you or made a difference in your life.
  • Give blood.
  • Call an old friend.
  • Buy the person behind you in line’s coffee, lunch or toll
  • Tell your co-workers you appreciate them and give examples why.
  • Compliment someone.
  • Volunteer to read to students or at a nursing home.
  • Smile at people on the street.
Chelley from Live Fully, Laugh Often, Love Deeply is participating and posted the "Kindness: Pass It On" poster (above) from the Random Acts of Kindness Foundation on her blog.

Dawn Sarli of Servin' It Up is celebrating the week as part of the Altruism and the Good Life course she is co-teaching at Green Mountain College in VT.

A Candy-Colored Life . .. Is Sweet
has challenged herself this week to:

"[B]e a little kinder every day. To myself, to my friends, to my pets, to my family, to my planet, to everyone. To be more engaged in what’s going on around me. To remember to look up and smile when I pass a stranger on the street. To breathe, count to ten and let it go when my neighbor parks his dilapidated jalopy too close to my driveway for the ten billionth time. To be extra careful to say please and thank you and you’re welcome. To remember that a little bit of kindness goes a long way."
How will you celebrate?

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