Research has linked giving of yourself to longevity, as well as feeling more energetic and stronger, and emotionally rewarded. A Carnegie Mellon University study found that adults over the age of 50 who volunteered for 200 or more hours a year were less likely to develop high blood pressure. And those who volunteered at least one hour in the past 12 months had better psychological well-being than non-volunteers. Marta Zaraska, author of Growing Young: How Friendship, Optimism, and Kindness Can Help You Live to 100, highlights in her book that people who give back spend 38 percent fewer nights in the hospital than those who don’t. And, per the author, many of the same benefits that giving back provides, such as a reduction in stress, can be experienced through performing random acts of kindness, no matter how small.
- Identify someone who could use some kindness. Maybe your child’s teacher, a neighbor, a family member or a friend is going through a hard time, or maybe you just want to brighten someone’s day for no particular reason.
- Ask yourself, “How can I be nice to others today?” Think of little actions you could take to put a smile on someone’s face.
- Baby steps. A kind act can be as simple as delivering a compliment. “Let others ahead in traffic, open doors for other people or smile at others,” Zaraska explains. (Even if you are wearing a mask, people can recognize the smile behind it.)
- Take a grassroots approach. Think of what you can do right now to make a difference in another’s life and go out and do it. When researching her book, Zaraska says she: “bought sandwiches for a homeless family, donated books, baked cookies for my husband to take to work and share with colleagues, fed stray cats, picked up trash around my neighborhood and put a sticky note with a smiley face and ‘have a good day’ on a neighbor’s car.” Zaraska says performing these acts lowered her stress levels. In a self-experiment, she even performed a daily cortisol test and found her levels of the stress hormone dropped after her own acts of kindness.
- Do some digging. Reach out to people you’d like to help and collect some intel as to what kind acts they would appreciate the most. Maybe your elderly neighbor needs to have his lawn mowed. Or your friend is looking for someone to take care of her dog next weekend. If you have some time to spare, sign up for the task.
- Join an organization. Many charities are looking for volunteers to do everything from assemble care packages for the homeless to virtually read to kids over Zoom. Check out aarp.org/volunteer to explore roles with AARP’s volunteer programs and use the volunteer wizard to express areas of interest and your skills. AARP’s Create the Good site helps connect you to nonprofits in your area seeking volunteers as well as links to thousands of volunteer-from-home opportunities. Need more ideas? Consider visiting these sites: serve.gov, idealist.org or volunteermatch.org.
- Become a cheerleader. Being an emotional support for another person can go a long way toward benefiting your own health. A 2017 study found people who comforted those going through difficult times via an online social network experienced a reduction in depression and boost increasedin their own happiness. So next time you see a sad post from a pal on Facebook, comment back with some encouragement or reach out to check in.
- Give money to an organization in need. Make a donation to a medical research organization, sign up to sponsor a child overseas, or contribute to a natural disaster relief fund. Visit charitynavigator.org or charitywatch.org to vet a charity you are thinking of contributing to