Reaping What We Sow: How We Benefit From Giving Back

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Acts of service have been fundamental to many spiritual traditions since their inception. Some have even been founded on it. The sincere belief in giving back has given purpose to countless people. Now there is also a scientific precedent for this long-standing belief.

Helping others doesn’t have to be motivated by enlightenment. There are very tangible benefits volunteering can bring to our lives. It turns out that the best way to incorporate peace and joy into our own lives is by bringing it into the lives of others.

Acts of service have been fundamental to many spiritual traditions since their inception.
Experiential Evidence
Before the advent of the scientific method, humankind was nevertheless seeking to quantify the value of service by other means – most notably in the form of spiritual or religious traditions. We find examples of selflessness in the wisdom of all cultures. Altruism knows no national or theological boundaries.

Some of the earliest examples come from the Hindu tradition. In chapter 4 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that “True sustenance is in service” and that “those who do not seek to serve are without a home in this world.” Krishna can again be found in chapter 12 saying that the path to peace lies with “Living beyond the reach of I and mine.”

The essence of service was again transmitted by the Buddha in the 5th century. In the first chapter of the Sutta Nipata – one of the earliest surviving books of the Buddhist canon – it states that: “As a mother would risk her life to protect… her only child, even so should one cultivate a limitless heart with regard to all beings.”

In 13th-century Italy, this same sentiment was expressed by St. Francis of Assisi when he wrote that “it is in giving that we receive.”
In chapter 4 of the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that “True sustenance is in service” and that “those who do not seek to serve are without a home in this world.”
Scientific Support
The wisdom of the ages reasserts itself only this time in the secular world. Various studies in medical journals of the past 20 years have proved conclusively that the compassion we share for others is returned to us in kind.

For starters, volunteering our time can counter the harmful effects of isolation by helping us feel more connected. Depression isn’t the only danger of isolation. It also fills our bodies with cortisol which impedes our cognition. Participating in a cause greater than ourselves is one way of lifting this isolation. It’s also an excellent opportunity to meet friends in like-minded people.

Stress in life is inevitable. The good news is that we can mitigate the effect stress has on us through acts of service. Since most of our stress comes from trying to do more than we’re capable of, it can feel counterproductive to devote time to volunteering. The fact remains that our busy schedules would feel less overwhelming if we dedicated regular time to helping others.

Volunteering our time also increases our capacity to feel joy. In a study carried out between 2021 and 2022, The Journal for Happiness Studies used data from 70,000 participants to measure the effect volunteering had on the population. It found that “people who volunteered at least once a month reported better mental health than those who volunteered rarely or not at all.” This evidence suggests the elusive key to true happiness may be deceptively simple.

There are even physiological benefits to giving our time. The endorphins released by volunteering provide us with a “helper's high.” Conversely, a lack of human connection can put us at further risk of inflammation and heart disease by lowering our immune system. It’s almost as though our bodies evolved to work together.
How Can I Start?
There’s no more valuable use of our time than giving it to others. And there are many opportunities to do so. Here are just 3 to help you get started:

1. Volunteering
There are plenty of organizations that are always looking for people willing to devote their time. Places like soup kitchens and food pantries are often inundated with volunteers during the holidays but often lack meaningful contributions during the remainder of the year.

Shelters and donation centers are always in need of items. Some of the most requested items are socks and underwear, all of which are relatively affordable, but could mean the world to those in need.

Sites like Volunteer Match are great places to look for opportunities in your local area.

2. Friends And Family
Volunteering our time doesn’t have to be as formal as signing up for a cleanup program or as sobering as visiting a shelter. It can also mean giving more time and attention to those around us. Simply giving our time to the people we care about is a wonderful way of showing them our appreciation. It’s an old adage that the best way to have a friend is to be one.

Writing a personalized birthday card or visiting our parents to help them around the house may be a small inconvenience, but both pay immense dividends in peace of mind. Sometimes simply taking the time to listen to a friend over the phone is the best way to get outside ourselves. Nothing says you matter to me more than the gift of our time.

3. Random Acts Of Kindness
Sometimes the most rewarding acts of service are the ones no one knows about. Doing something as small as picking up a piece of trash on a hike or putting away a stray shopping cart can have a big impact on our mood.

Next time you’re in the drive-through of a Starbucks, offer to buy the order for the person behind you. Who knows – maybe that person will be so moved that they’ll be more likely to devote their time to someone in turn.
Author Bio
Alex is a content writer, tutor, and founder of Ardent Pen where he combines his love of writing with the joy of healthy living. He also has a monthly blog dedicated to health and wellness.
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Alex Nagel

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