It Really is Better to Give

by DavalosMcCormack on November 10, 2009

One of the things I really like about my job – other than the huge pay cheque that keeps me in the lavish lifestyle that I love and that allows Shirley to spend her days languishing idly while the serving staff feed her bonbons and bringing roses for her to smell (as if – is that it allows me to do all sorts of things that I might otherwise never do.

Just this week for instance I was working at the San Francisco Food Bank, working with a bunch of my colleagues in sorting out food. We boxed 3,000 pounds of apples and 1,200 pounds of rice in just three hours – enough to feed 6,000 individuals. It was an amazing experience. You come out feeling that you have actually done something worthwhile with your day.

And that was just a Monday! See what I mean about loving my job.

A few weeks ago we got to work with Habitat for Humanity, helping a co-worker – who was getting a house from Habitat – put in some of the 500 volunteer hours that she needed to donate.

We turned up early on a Saturday morning not knowing one end of a hammer from another and left having built a house. Ok, so we actually just built a garden fence. OK not quite the whole fence but a small portion of it. But hey! It was a really cute portion and all the bits of wood matched and it looked great – not like a Dr. Seuss fence, all wonky and wiggly.

I even learned how to hammer a nail in properly. After a few false starts –  my thumb is recovering nicely by the way, thanks for asking.

Anyway, whether it’s walking into the Food Bank building or the Habitat building site, the end result is the same – a feeling that what you are doing is going to have a direct impact on someone’s life.

So often our jobs are distanced from ordinary people. We work in an office and never see the faces of the people our efforts are helping. Or we work in a factory and never get to meet the people who use our products. The work itself is no less important for all that, but we miss out on that intensely human feeling of seeing the products of our labor helping someone.

When you work at Habitat you are working with the people who are going to be living in the houses you build (or who are going to look out of their kitchen window and think “damn, that’s a lovely fence). When you work at the Food Bank you don’t see the people you are helping but you see the food you are preparing and it doesn’t take much imagination to know how important that can be for a family struggling to make ends meet.

It’s not just a good thing to do for others, it’s not just a fun thing to do (you get to hang out with friends or meet new people you might never have met if you hadn’t volunteered) but it’s also a healthy thing to do for yourself. Researchers at the University of Michigan followed people over age 65 and found that those who volunteered 40 or more hours a year (a year mind you!!) were more likely to live longer than those who didn’t volunteer.

Other studies have found that people who have a sense of purpose in their life – and that can be something as simple as wanting to help others – live longer than people without a goal or purpose.

So, this holiday season, do something for yourself by doing something for someone else. It’s a great way to feel you are helping those less fortunate than yourself. It’s a great way to put some perspective on the problems we are facing today, and to feel you are at least helping some people get through these tough times.

And it’s a heck of a lot more fun – and cheaper – than shopping.

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