Depression

Paying It Forward


A New Year and New Decade’s Resolution for 2010

Altruism – Paying It Forward

 2010 brings not just a new year, but a new decade, for a fresh start.  Rather than a long list of resolutions, having one unifying theme might be more realistic and attainable.  For the next decade, I propose altruism.  Few would argue with the idea that helping others is a good and kind gift to society.

Giving, it turns out, may help the giver as well.  (You give, you get.)  In Buddhism and Hinduism, this is known as karma.  Colloquially, we call this “paying it forward.” 

A New Year and New Decade’s Resolution for 2010

Altruism – Paying It Forward

 2010 brings not just a new year, but a new decade, for a fresh start.  Rather than a long list of resolutions, having one unifying theme might be more realistic and attainable.  For the next decade, I propose altruism.  Few would argue with the idea that helping others is a good and kind gift to society.

Giving, it turns out, may help the giver as well.  (You give, you get.)  In Buddhism and Hinduism, this is known as karma.  Colloquially, we call this “paying it forward.”  

Science agrees: multiple studies in the medical and psychology literature have shown both mental and physical health benefits to the giver, or volunteer.  You don’t have to be  Mother Teresa  to reap the benefits.  If you give even to a smaller degree to others, you will feel better: A 2002 study published in the journal, Pain Management Nursing, showed that  patients with chronic pain who volunteered showed improvements in pain, disability, and depression immediately after training and after volunteering for several months.  A review, published in 2005 in the International Journal of Behavioral Medicine, showed that “a strong correlation exists between the  well-being, happiness, health, and longevity of people who are emotionally and behaviorally compassionate, so long as they are not overwhelmed by helping tasks.”  Not enough for you? Another study showed that volunteering may help you live longer: a 1999 study in the Journal of Health Psychology showed that  elderly people who volunteered were less likely to die, compared to their non-volunteering peers.  In these studies, people got the most benefit when their giving involved direct contact with others.  A recent study showed similar benefits to  This type of research is discussed in further detail in Stephen Post’s and Jill Neimark’s book,   Why Good Things Happen to Good People Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life the author, Cami Walker, shares her personal experiences along these lines.  Ms. Walker was diagnosed in her early 30s with multiple sclerosis (MS).  MS is an illness for which we don’t have great treatments, so many patients with this illness seek out other forms of support, including alternative medicine.  Along these lines, Ms. Walker sought out the advice of a holistic health educator, who gave her a prescription to spend 29 days doing something for others each day.  In her book, Ms. Walker describes how she felt better in her daily functioning after the 29 days of giving, with decreased pain and increased mobility.  Her acts of giving consisted of small gestures such as making supportive phone calls to her friends, or giving a smile to a stranger.   As a way to share her positive experience with others, she has started a related website, 29gifts.org.

Several others who overcame personal difficulty by reaching out to help other people are profiled in The Courage to Give, by Jackie Waldman and Janis Leibs Dworkis.

Giving to others is a wonderful goal.  Now it turns out that the giver may also benefit in return.  Something to think about as we begin a new decade. 

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