If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
But if you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.
– Chinese Proverb
Three weeks ago, I was sitting in the 3rd floor lounge at Holy Cross Hospital in Ft. Lauderdale thinking about the gift of giving and how to write about it. Haiti was on my mind (it still is), but so was my grandmother. Laid up in the hospital with a gangrenous (and later amputated) left leg, she struggled with pain and frustration over the loss of a limb and the inevitability of old age. But with every news story about the destruction and tragedy 1,000 miles south of where I was sitting, I fought the urge to jump up, run to the closest airport, find the next flight to Haiti (yes, I know there aren’t any) and offer my services to anyone who needs them. But the people of Haiti aren’t the only ones who need our help, and my opportunity to give back was right in front of me.
At that moment, my family needed me, so what could I give? I’m an avid healthy cook and quite skilled in the backrub department, so after I made my Red Cross donation (please make yours if you can), I gave back to my family. I brought meals my cousins and I made to the rest of the clan at the hospital and offered massages when I could. My mother probably would have been satisfied with only my company, but some of us have an urge to do more.
And this is why I’m heading to Cusco, Peru, to volunteer. I'll be spending the next couple of weeks at a children’s hospital, and while I’m taking my massage skills with me, I'll also be emptying bedpans if that's what I'm asked to do. Happily.
Several studies have found that regular volunteer work leads to a happier life for the giver. It increases life expectancy, and is also good for your immune and nervous systems because it releases endorphins into the blood stream (the same chemicals that cause runner’s high, reduce stress and pain as well as lower blood pressure). Just as proper diet and exercise promote good health, it seems like a healthy lifestyle should also include a regular dose of volunteering.
But the benefits of volunteering don't just end there. By selecting the right opportunity, you can gain or improve upon a variety of practical skills, network, and maybe identify a new career path. Not everyone gets to choose what they do for a living, but every volunteer can choose what organization they volunteer for.
By choosing an organization that matches your values, you will find that you are making your world a better place. To learn more about volunteering abroad, click here to see what might work for you. To learn more about local volunteering opportunities in the DC area, click here.
I will try to post regularly while I’m in Peru to update you on the status of my volunteer work. I will return to DC on February 27 (and start seeing clients again on March 1).
Bye, Gram. I love you.