THE ALTRUISM OPTION – A KEY TO WELLNESS AND A FULLER LIFE
“A rich life consists fundamentally of serving others, trying to leave the world a little better than you found it.” – Cornel West
You might think that, despite the obvious benefits of giving, you simply do not have the time, resources, or energy to help other people. However, value is not necessarily limited to money. Acquiring an altruistic way of living means finding value in areas of our lives that may have nothing to do with monetary assets. Cleaning out your closet and giving old clothes to the Salvation Army, expecting a tax deduction, is not necessarily a good example of an altruistic lifestyle. There are many ways of sharing what you have with other people – and you don’t have to spend money.
Researchers have long known that laughter causes the brain to release powerful chemicals called endorphins. These neurochemicals bring us a feeling of joy, ease pain, and increase alertness. Laughter relaxes us. It can help to defuse tense situations. Explore what makes you laugh – and then share it with other people. Tell jokes and funny stories, share witticisms, and engage in physical humor.
You have learned a great deal in your lifetime, both from practical experience and what you have read and heard. Share your knowledge with other people. You become more valuable to your social networks and to people you meet. You have acquired wisdom and have learned what to do and what to avoid. Help other people as they struggle with situations similar to what you have experienced. Some people acquire a library and leave books on shelves for years, never to be opened again. But think about this. Might it not be better to have a conversation with someone about a book and if they express an interest in the book, then simply give it to them? You benefit from sharing your knowledge and giving a gift, and the other person benefits not only from the knowledge they will acquire from the book, but from the experience of having something of value given to them.
Time can be seen as your most precious asset. You have only a limited amount of it during your lifetime, so it is important to spend it wisely. Ask yourself if you are spending your time well. Mindless hours in front of the TV might be better spent in a pursuit important to you, one that enhances your life and the lives of others. When you give your time to another person or an organization, you are giving a precious gift – a part of your life. Examine your own values – do you like being with people, nature, activity, ideas? Then give your time to pursuing whatever is it that you value – and do it in such a way that other people reap the benefit of what you value. For example, if you like being in nature, volunteer your time in building nature trails. If it’s activity, you might coach a soccer team or teach inner-city kids how to swim through a local youth program.
Showing respect to others is one of the best gifts. You can do this by active listening. One of our greatest needs is to have another person show that he or she cares about us. It makes us feel nurtured and important – and so few of us have even one person in the world who can do this for us. Encourage a friend to talk to you about important issues. Give this person your complete attention. Don’t pass judgment as the person talks. Ask short questions or make brief comments that encourage the person to say more (like “Tell me more,” or “That must have really been hard”). Avoid giving advice unless the other person asks for it. Just listening is one of the greatest gifts you can give someone else.
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.