Well by Doing Good
September 11 the results of evil intentions were all too apparent.
Yet hundreds of stories emerged about good intentions, self-sacrifice,
and heroism. Police and firefighters saving lives and losing
their own at New York City's collapsing World Trade Center.
People on a doomed flight resisting armed hijackers to save
lives on the ground. Much more typically, people all over the
country lined up to donate blood. People phoned and sent messages.
Concerts and memorial services were held. Everybody wanted to
hard times, are you better off to think of others or concentrate
on yourself? You may be surprised to learn that there's scientific
evidence that altruismconcern for otherspays back
plentifully. Chimpanzees, elephants, even bees take care of
each other. So do human beings, and everybody is better off
for it. Of course, gain for oneself is not uppermost in the
mind of a true altruist. But you'll get benefits whether or
not you seek them.
for community service may actually help prolong your life. It
can boost vitality and self-esteem. Researchers at the University
of Michigan recently reported that retired people who volunteered
just 40 hours a year tended to live longer, compared with those
who never did community service. A study of 762 retired people,
conducted at Cornell University and presented to the American
Sociological Association in 1999, found that volunteers were
happier than nonvolunteers, and had more energy and a greater
sense of control over their lives. A Harvard study found that
older people with productive activities, including volunteering,
improved their chances of living a long life as much as those
who engaged in fitness activities. Con-structive work confers
a sense of well-being and identity. If your social support system
is thin, volunteering can provide you with chances to make friends.
Although people of all ages can benefit, older peopleespecially
the retiredseem to benefit the most.
third age" may be give-back time
scientists question all this, however. Could it be that healthy,
optimistic, energetic people are the ones who volunteer in the
first place? This is no doubt part of the explanation.
yet it's obvious that there's a lot to gain by volunteering.
In Canada almost one in four of those over 65 do volunteer work
(in the U.S. the proportion is slightly lower, about one in
five). According to a government survey these older Canadians
enjoy an improved quality of life, stronger social networks,
and increased physical activity. "The third age of human
development" is what one commentator calls retirement:
"a time when we can give back to society the lessons, the
wisdom, and the resources we have derived... throughout our
lives." The desire to give back (that is, altruism) is
surely a sign of healtha chance to do what you lacked
time and wisdom to do at earlier stages of life.
you would like to volunteer, try the organizations and resources
listed below. Watch your local newspapers for calls for volunteers.
Nursing homes or isolated older adults without families may
need people to run errands or to read aloud. If you know someone
who's caring for a chronically ill family member, you may be
able to help out. Shelters may need cooks or people to serve
meals or sort clothing.
Many who've never volunteered are shy about beginning. Depending
on the organization, it can be a bit like applying for a paying
job. Some people start a program only to realize they would
prefer to be somewhere elseyou may need to shop around.
The important thing is not to get discouraged. There are plenty
of niches to fill.
few suggestions for happy volunteering
Try to pick a match for yourself. If you know something about
accounting, law, carpentry, sewing, or coping with the health-care
system, or if you have musical talent, find out where your
expertise can be useful.
Find an organization where you already have friends, or more
important, an organization that knows how to put you to work
effectively. The American Red Cross and your local blood bank,
for example, have long experience in employing volunteers
effectively. Local libraries and museums may also need helpand
know how to use it.
If you have a car and enjoy driving, many charitable organizations
need driversMeals on Wheels, for example. Your local
hospital may need drivers for outpatients coming for treatment.
Here are some resources: SeniorCorps
on Aging, Helping.org,
Humanity (229-924-6935), Servenet.org,
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