We often measure our well-being based on our health and our wealth, usually because its so easily measured. I came to this conclusion one day after a conversation with a close friend. “How are you?” I asked. “Well, I’m feeling good – no complaints and I still have a job” she said. And when she asked me the same question, I basically repeated the same answer—I was healthy, gained a few clients but I added that I had started volunteering.
“Volunteering?” she asked. “I wish I had time.”
Over the years I have come to believe that much of what we think will improve our well-being or make us happy doesn’t come from a checkbook or even our health status. We are quick to buy books and programs or listen to seminars that promise to help make us money, lose weight or look better. We spend lots of money on stuff that fills our homes. Then we dedicate endless hours to our jobs so we can pay for “stuff.” But in the end does it improve our wellbeing?
I made a New Year’s resolution this year to start volunteering. I hadn’t ever been much of a volunteer and didn’t come from a family that gave back. Over the years of raising a family and working mostly full time, I convinced myself that I didn’t have the time. Even now I wasn’t sure I had the energy but I was going to make the time. Why? Because I now believe that well-being is a combination of how we spend each day and our connection to life. It’s not just about how much money we make or whether we get up early enough for that morning run. Oh, sure those things are important too but our well-being is also tied into the quality of our relationships and how we have contributed to those around us. It feels so good when we do things for others. It makes us well.
So I decided to volunteer in my community in some way. I honestly didn’t know how or where that would lead me. Now three months later I am a hospice volunteer. I give a few hours each week to a family who is caring for someone that is dying or to a person that is dying and needs a friend. My first patient was a bedridden, 95 year old women named Jenny. Her husband was long gone. She had no children but family next door had adopted her and was taking care of her. They needed some help.
One day as I sat next to her bed I couldn’t help but notice how beautiful she was. She couldn’t talk but her eyes were clear and her skin was glowing. I looked at her and told her I couldn’t believe how pretty she was. “What’s your beauty secret?” I asked her. She smiled. I smiled back. I was told later by the family that she rarely smiled and that they were so glad that I had come. I had brought some joy into her life. She died the next day.
Such a small amount of time I had given. It cost me nothing. But the payoff to my own wellbeing was unmeasurable. I had made a difference. It felt good! I had gotten back more than I had given. As the American Red Cross says, “Give blood. All you’ll feel is good.” They are right. Giving of ourselves may be what differentiates an “okay” life from an “awesome” life. There is no greater gift we can give others than our time. So don’t just wish you had time to give back. Do it for your own well-being.
Make the time.