Giving Back is the Answer to Aging Well
Why is it important to give back to the community?
Because the secret to living is giving. True fulfillment doesn’t lie in material possessions, following a certain blueprint for your life or even in finding a passionate relationship. Those things are all parts of achieving a good life. But real meaning in life never comes from what you get, it comes from what you give.
A wide range of research has linked different forms of generosity to better health, even among the sick and elderly.
A 1999 study led by Doug Oman of the University of California, Berkeley, found that elderly people who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than were non-volunteers, even after controlling for their age, exercise habits, general health, and negative health habits like smoking.
Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan saw similar results in a 2003 study on elderly couples. She and her colleagues found that those individuals who provided practical help to friends, relatives, or neighbors, or gave emotional support to their spouses, had a lower risk of dying over a five-year period than those who didn’t. Interestingly, receiving help wasn’t linked to a reduced death risk.
This month’s topic of giving back aligns nicely with last month’s experiment of ‘finding meaning in life’. These two values contribute to aging well.
What Can You Do to Give Back?
This is a very personal question. It can be your time, money or expertise. The action needs to align with your values and interests.
Giving back does not have be complicated or a big show. Simple acts of kindness or going out of your way to do something to help your family, friend or someone you don’t even know can make a difference.
For example, walking on one of my book box explorations in Crescent Heights I saw an elderly lady struggling to unload her groceries and take them up the steps to her house. I asked if she needed any help and her face lit up as she said ‘yes’.
We started talking as I was carrying her bags and she said that she had lived in this house for over 60 years. Her husband had passed away a few years back. Then she started talking about her dad and his involvement in WWII. I must have stood there for over an hour. I enjoyed the conversation and I got way more out of this encounter than the physical effort expended to carry groceries. My mood was lighter and it felt good to help.
Small Acts Do Count!
As I was researching information for this blog, I looked up ideas for ‘giving back to your community’. And one of the ideas was setting up a Free Little Library on your property.
This made me pause, as I do have a book box near the sidewalk on my front-lawn. My father-in-law made it for me. I did not even think of this as giving back so this made me happy to see this item in the article, as I am already contributing to the neighborhood.
If you would like to read the list of the ideas for giving back here is the article, https://benevity.com/resources/50-ideas-to-do-good .
Some Specific Examples of Giving Back
Look for Opportunities to be Kind in Your Every Day Interactions
Sometimes all it takes is a smile or ‘hello’ to brighten someone’s day. (Note: this can be cultural. When I was living in the Netherlands, I used to smile or say ‘hi’ to those I met on my walks. This was met with some confusion, as it was not the norm. I stopped doing this with the Dutch, but for those living there from outside of the country they sure seemed to appreciate it.)
Is there an organization you would like to support by volunteering?
I am thinking I would like to volunteer with seniors in some capacity. For now, I am helping my Mom with things in Stettler and in some instances with my mother-in-law in Kimberley. This is a lot of emotional giving so I think I will wait until the new year to do more with a senior organization.
Do you have used clothing to donate?
Donations can be money, clothing, food, blood or other resources to charities. I try where I can to donate, but I could do this more frequently. I do not think I have donated blood in more than 20 years.
Get Involved with Local Community Organizations
Is there a local neighbourhood organization you could check-out?
I have a very active community association in my neighbourhood (Dalhousie Community Association) and they are often looking for volunteers. It seems like I am often away when they are doing food drives or cleaning up litter. I will look for further opportunities with this organization.
Ever since I was in my 20’s I thought it would be a good experience to volunteer abroad. I even put in an application in my late 20’s with CUSO and made it through the screening process. Unfortunately, I was not assigned a country of my choice and I decided not to go.
30 years later, I have been thinking about this again. It may go on the list to investigate.
Be a Mentor
You have the life experience and it can be a wonderful thing to share your knowledge with those at different stages in life.
‘A’ has mentioned that he is interested in being a ‘Big Brother’. I have a close relationship with my nieces and nephew of mine, so I hope I can be mentor to them.
There are also professional (career) mentorship programs. It really depends on your area of interest.
I would like to lead in some capacity or inspire others to live their best lives. This is part of the reason for this blog, with the other part being a creative outlet.
I was on a couple of Boards 10 years ago, but it wasn’t that interesting to me. There were a lot of egos! I am positive there are good boards out there and I may look at this again.
You have talents to share and there are many that would benefit from your skill-set and experience.
What if you are already maxed out with your time and energy and feel there is nothing left to give?
Rest, and give back to yourself.
There are times in your life, depending on what is going on, where you feel depleted. This is not the time to start a lot of new activities for others. I feel that way, right now, and I am focusing more on myself and next steps.
The last 2 years took a lot out of me with running back and forth between Stettler and Kimberley with my parents and in-laws’ medical concerns.
It is for this reason; I took the summer off from consulting and teaching. I will resume in the fall. I am also re-grouping and thinking about what’s next, hence the blog.
What’s Up for August’s Experiment of Giving Back
I will investigate some of the options for giving back that I listed (1-7) and then really be intentional on the small every-day things. (saying ‘hi’, holding the door open for others, donate used clothing, looking for ways to reach out to others, kind actions, etc.)
And then taking time for myself to read, bike, walk outside and reflect. I hope to go to my Mom’s cabin at Buffalo Lake and enjoy swimming, frisbee golf and possibly pickle ball.
How are you taking care of yourself this month? Ideas for giving back? Let me know. I am interested.
Take care and live well,
2] Jill Suttie, Jason Marsh, December 13, 2010 5 Ways giving is good for you, The Greater Good Magazine, https://greatergood.berkeley.edu/article/item/5_ways_giving_is_good_for_you