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Wired for Service

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On Tuesday when I heard we were expecting a major winter storm, I got all my errands done so I’d be ready to enjoy a quiet day at home on Wednesday as the snow fell. Then I went next door to check on my elderly aunts. Aunt Bo had been in extreme pain for a few days (it was looking like a bone fracture due to osteoporosis, but turned out to be muscle spasm), and I wanted to see how she was feeling. Her daughter was away on vacation and her son was keeping tabs on her by phone, but she kept telling him not to make the drive in from New Jersey—that she’d be fine. Knowing that she’s not always completely honest with her kids concerning her health, I decided to pop in to see what was really going on. I saw that she was still in unbearable pain, and suggested she go to the ER. She refused, so I did what little I could to make her comfortable and asked my Aunt Ginny, her sister, to promise to call me if they needed anything.

I was sleeping peacefully Wednesday morning when my phone rang at 7:30.  Caller ID said it was Aunt Bo, but when I groggily said hello, expecting to hear her on the other end, a deep male voice answered me instead. It was an EMS medic, telling me they were taking Bo to the ER and she wanted me to ride along in the ambulance. Because I was pretty sure they wouldn’t want to wait until I pulled myself together, I said I’d meet her at the hospital as soon as I got dressed. The hospital is only three blocks from my house, so I got there shortly after she did. There was nothing I could offer her except moral support, but that was all she needed from me. I stayed with her until her daughter-in-law drove in from New Jersey; then I bundled up and trudged home in the sloppy, wet snow.

I’ll be honest: I was not thrilled to be awakened early on a day when I could have stayed in bed as long as I wanted. Even as I walked to the hospital, I was thinking how if I couldn’t be sleeping, my second choice would be sitting in my kitchen, drinking coffee. But when I walked into the ER exam room and saw the relief on Bo’s face—that there was now someone in the room who knows her and loves her—I melted. Holding her hand and helping her communicate with caregivers made me feel really good. When her daughter-in-law arrived, I was actually reluctant to leave.    

I’ve become very aware that I am “wired for service,” so to speak. I am happiest when I’m doing something for someone else. Doing volunteer work lights me up. Reaching high-up things for petite people at the grocery store can be the highlight of an afternoon for me. Performing simple tasks for my aunts that they are no longer able to do for themselves makes me feel warm and fuzzy; it embarrasses me when they (or their children) thank me over-and-over because I feel as though I’ve already gotten a reward out of the process.

Here are a few of the ways helping others actually helps me . . .

  • Helping others releases endorphins: those wonderful chemicals our bodies produce that make us feel good emotionally and physically. The so called “Helper’s High” is a welcome side-effect of being kind to others.
  • Helping others helps me put my own needs into better perspective and feel grateful for the life I’m living. It causes me to realize that although I’m facing problems, other people are too—and their problems are often bigger and scarier than my own.
  • Helping others makes me feel connected and less isolated. I volunteer at the Welcome Center at my church several times a month. Engaging newcomers in conversation and letting them know I’m happy that they visited makes me feel good because I know how it feels to be a stranger in a new environment. By making newcomers feel connected, I feel more connected too.
  • Helping others improves my emotional well-being because it helps me feel good about who I am. I tend to be angry with myself a lot—it’s a problem I’ve dealt with all my life and one I’m working hard to overcome, but when I do something nice for someone else, it reminds me that I am a good person and it gives me permission to be kinder to myself. 
  • Helping others makes me healthier. Studies have shown that people who make a habit of giving support to others (friends, relatives, neighbors, or spouses) or do volunteer work on a regular basis have overall better health and tend to live longer.

The truth is this: I am not part of a unique group; we are all wired for service. The next time you do something for someone else—like holding open a door, or letting another person go ahead of you in line, or putting a quarter in someone else’s about-to-be-expired parking meter—pay close attention to the way it makes you feel. Let yourself enjoy the endorphin rush; give yourself permission to feel good about yourself (perhaps even a little heroic!), and consider starting a habit that is a win/win . . . for others and for you.  

Sources:

https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/a-to-z/a/altruism-and-wellbeing

https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/high-octane-women/201409/helpers-high-the-benefits-and-risks-altruism

Photo by Brandon Young via Unsplash

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