Serving others is a great tool for building resilience that might seem counterintuitive. After all, isn’t the point of being resilient to smooth the bumps in your own life?
Service is a key part of resilience for a few reasons. First of all, doing things for others releases serotonin and dopamine, the chemicals that make us feel good. But the benefits don’t end there. When we serve others we take the focus off ourselves and get the opportunity to see the world from someone else’s view. As we learned earlier in this series, perspective is an important part of resilience. Finally, when we look for opportunities to serve, we deepen our existing connections to other people and we may even develop new networks and communities.
The best part of service is that there are so many opportunities to jump in. Sure you could fly off to build houses in Haiti, but that’s not necessary. Every day we’re surrounded with opportunities to brighten days and lighten loads. Here are a few ways to get that serotonin and dopamine flowing:
The easiest way to perform acts of service is to do things for your family. In fact, Acts of Service is a love language! Do something unexpected for your spouse/significant other or your children. Make their favorite meal. Choose a movie they’ve been wanting to see. Take care of a chore so they don’t have to. Not only will you feel good from doing the act of service, you’ll be modeling that behavior for your family members.
When a friend is going through a rough patch, they likely won’t ask for help. Most of us have a hard time answering the call to “let me know if you need anything.” Instead, offer your friends specific acts of service like walking their dog, or making them a meal when they’ve just had a baby. Surprise them with coffee or an icy treat when you know they’re having a rough week.
Many times, letting friends know you truly care is the greatest act of service you can perform. Make time to call them, write notes, and to remember birthdays and anniversaries. With a little planning and your calendar app, you’ll never forget those important dates.
Pro Tip: If you struggle with what to get friends for birthdays and key dates, go with an “official” gift and card for that calendar year. Maybe in 2021, all your friends are getting a book. Then in 2022 you can change it up to a plant. There’s still room to pick a book unique to that friend, but much of the indecision will be gone. Plus, you’ll never give a friend the same gift two years in a row.
When people think of acts of service, volunteering on a committee or serving meals at a shelter are probably what come to mind. Volunteering in your community is a great way to give back and make a difference, but it doesn’t have to involve a lifetime commitment or eat up an entire weekend.
Homeless shelters, animal shelters, municipalities, libraries, museums, and schools all need volunteers as seldom as once a year or as often as every week. Before you select an organization, consider your passions. If you’re an active person, you may want to look for a chance to support your local trails or parks committee, or help organize a fundraising race. If someone in your life is affected by Autism or MS, then organizations that raise funds and awareness might be your logical starting point.
You can even blend service and socialization by creating a volunteer group among your friends or coworkers. Getting together monthly to serve is fun and uplifting. Plus, there are so many options:
- Assemble hygiene kits for the homeless
- Collect and organize items for a clothing drive
- Sew blankets
- Prepare a meal for other volunteers, teachers, or shelter residents
- Go plogging (jogging and collecting roadside litter)
Working in a group also takes some of the pressure off your schedule. Progress keeps advancing, even if you have to skip attending one month.
Random Acts of Kindness
Whether or not you can volunteer in your community, your day is bursting with opportunities to commit small acts of service. Look for ways you can help the strangers you encounter. Compliments, smiles, eye contact with a warm greeting, and opening doors are just a few examples. Returning shopping carts to the corral, helping someone load their groceries in their car, and paying for the drive-thru order for the car behind you are a few others.
See someone overwhelmed? Offer a quick word of encouragement. Allow someone to go ahead of you in line. Let someone merge ahead of you during rush hour. Kindnesses like these are everywhere if you adopt the right mindset. The smallest things can make the biggest difference in someone’s day.
Do you struggle with self-care but flourish at service? Remove yourself from the narrative and look at self-care as the kind of service you’d perform for a friend. What is self-care if not acts of service you perform for yourself? Reframe it in your mind and start making time to do some of those things you know would help you recharge and refresh. And while you’re at it, give yourself a compliment!
No matter what kinds of service you choose, you will make a difference in someone’s life. Don’t be surprised if that someone is you.