If you've ever given someone an extra-thoughtful present, volunteered to help the less fortunate, or donated money to a good cause, you're well aware that giving to others can make you feel somehow more whole.
Research supports this notion that putting others before yourself is in fact a profound show of self-care: Acting philanthropically has been shown to emit dopamine and oxytocin, the same happiness-promoting brain chemicals that flow when we give hugs, reach our goals, and fall in love. What's more, service work can have physical manifestations like lowering blood pressure, easing depression, and even lessening risk of mortality. Science has also found a feel-good feedback loop: The more gratitude you have, the more likely you are to give back, and the more you give back, the more grateful you become. By prioritizing service, you're sharing your gifts with the world while filling a void you may not know you had.
"In the short term, we experience a 'helpers high.' We are wired to feel good by doing good. In the long run, service work provides us with a sense of purpose, a stronger level of gratitude, and an improved social network," explains Meik Wiking, CEO of the Copenhagen-based Happiness Research Institute and author of the upcoming book, The Little Book of Lykke. "In recent years, Danes have enjoyed volunteering in building community gardens and community kitchens."
At its core, mindbodygreen's new mission and mantra, You. We. All, gives name to this philanthropic phenomenon. It says that you can't truly be healthy if your greater community is sick. Personal and planetary health are not separate. They work in tandem, intimately shaping and molding one another. The mbg team experienced this relationship firsthand during a recent volunteer event at P.S. 333 Manhattan School for Children, where we led after-school wellness programs sharing our skills in yoga, basketball, dance, and more with kindergarten children. At the evening's end, smiles stretched across mouths large and small, and the good energy was palpable.
"It was a ton of fun getting to share my knowledge with them and helping them develop their enthusiasm for yoga, a sport near and dear to my heart," Liz Moody, mbg's senior food editor, recalls.
"It was awesome that at no cost, we were able to impact families in a positive way," adds mbg's office manager, Jenna Capizzi. "I loved seeing members from each of our teams and even our CEO and COO sharing their passion of moving and eating well."
Inspired by the night, and all the positivity that lingered afterward, we asked members the mindbodygreen community to describe their most enriching volunteering experiences. Their responses are poignant reminders of the myriad ways we can all use our unique talents to give back to the world at large and all we stand to gain from doing so.