The holidays are here again. Thanks to 2020, staying home and Zoom calls are in, while family events and office parties are out. This year, the holidays are quieter and more solitary for many of us. That festive glow of gathering together, with the sound of echoing laughter and clinking china, is a feeling that no amount of virtual parties will ever recreate.
If you are feeling down this holiday season, you are not alone. It has been a tough year, to say the least. The ongoing anxiety that the pandemic has brought forth, whether fear for our own health, the safety of our loved ones, our financial security, or our collective future, affects each and every one of us. For American adults, anxiety symptoms have tripled and depression has quadrupled in 2020 compared to 2019, according to a report from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In response, a cascade of articles have offered advice for supporting our mental health. Many suggest that we connect with friends via text or Zoom, pick up a new hobby, exercise, sleep, hydrate, eat healthy food, take a break from social media, and consult a virtual therapist. These are all solid recommendations. But there is one action that hasn’t been included in many of these lists, that offers long-term benefits to our happiness, health, and well-being. And that is service.
The impact of helping others has been understood for centuries by ancient philosophy. Texts such as the Bhagavad Gita tell us that it is through service that we live meaningful, happy lives. Former Buddhist monk and current author Jay Shetty writes in Think Like A Monk that service connects us, amplifies gratitude, increases compassion, and builds self-esteem.
Today, science is affirming these assertions. Studies have found that when we act in service to others it decreases depression (Mayo Clinic), lowers blood pressure (Harvard Health), increases longevity (Journal of Health Psychology), and boosts confidence (NPR). One study even tracked participants over the course of two years and found that helping others chemically alters the brain in ways that provide a buffer against stress and physical ailments.
And there has never been a better time to help others. Right now in America, 1 in 6 adults and 1 in 4 children are facing food insecurity, the highest levels seen since the Great Depression. Nearly 19 million Americans are in danger of losing their homes when the federal eviction limits expire on December 31st.
Service doesn’t require a huge bank account or hours of free time. It can be a simple as sending a message to someone you care about, expressing how much you admire them and how they’ve changed your life for the better. You could drop off a few cans of food at a local food bank or spread the word about your friend’s Facebook fundraiser. Or, you could take inspiration from others, such as this Florida resident who paid the utility bills for his neighbors, or this individual who started a pay-it-forward in a Dairy Queen drive-thru that lasted over 900 cars.
Your service isn’t just what the world so desperately needs right now. It’s what your heart and mind need, too. All it takes is a moment of reflection, an idea, and a desire to bring joy to others.
This holiday season and beyond, let’s focus less on our own sorrows and more on how we can alleviate the suffering of others. In doing so, we open our hearts and minds to different perspectives, meaningful connections, and a renewed sense of purpose.