“I slept and I dreamed that life is all joy. I woke and I saw that life is all service. I served and I saw that service is joy.” –Kahlil Gibran
On a dark and stormy morning, my neighbor, Ruth, drove me to work. My car had broken down and she had been driving me all week. This morning was different, however. This morning, I had something for her.
The day before, I bought Ruth a little gift, a coffee mug, to show how much I appreciated what she was doing. However, when I tried to give it to her, she refused saying “Driving you brings me plenty of joy. I don’t need extra.”
Most of my favorite memories about my grandparents involve food. I remember looking in awe at elaborate fruit salads that my grandmother would make in the shape of Disney characters. I also remember going to the park with my grandmother and getting ice cream from the ice cream truck. I realized that I was incredibly lucky to have grandparents that were involved and cared about nourishing me.
There is some evidence that when we help others, it can benefit our lives in unexpected ways. Though most older adults are not depressed, older adults are at an increased risk of depression because of changes in their lives.
These changes include:
- Chronic illness
- Death of loved ones
How can you protect yourself against depression?
In order to protect from depression, it is important to understand what brings joy. In one study, grandparents gave babies massages everyday for four weeks. Then they received massages daily for a month. Surprisingly, they seemed to benefit more from giving massages than from getting them.
The grandparents experienced certain postitive changes in their lives when they massaged the babies. They started to live a little better. They drank fewer cups of coffee a day. They also called their friends and family more often. Lastly, they made fewer trips to the doctor’s office.
Their disposition also seemed to change when they gave babies massages. They appeared happier, almost like a weight had been lifted off their shoulders. They walked and acted more confidently.
The grandparents didn’t seem to enjoy receiving the massages, however. They experienced some benefits, but not nearly as many as when they massaged the babies. Many of them felt awkward receiving a massage.
Is it better to give or receive?
The grandparents knew that the massages were beneficial on some level- after all, they probably wouldn’t feel so happy massaging the babies if they didn’t think that it would help them. However, they were closed off from receiving the benefits of a massage themselves (I outline the health benefits of a massage here). The reasons for this are not entirely clear.
Perhaps it is a product of the culture that they grew up in. Many times, we give to people who are smaller, younger, or helpless in some way. As a result, we we receive something, we can almost feel reduced in some way.
In contrast, there are other cultures where the richest and most powerful are served- think the kings and queens of the past. Being served doesn’t reduce them but adds to their power.
Ultimately, it is good to have balance. It is important to recognize that when you open up and receive help, you are improving your benefactor’s life in some way.
It is also important to look for opportunities to help others- there are plenty out there. Some people who might benefit from your help include:
- Students in school
- People who are trying to get jobs
- The homeless
- People who have a chronic condition
- Your neighbor who needs help getting to work
Let me know down in the comments if you have ever been surprised by the amount of joy you felt when you helped someone. What are some ways that you can help someone this month?