The Best Gift You Can Give - Cluff Counseling - Dallas Therapist“If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help someone else.” -Old Chinese Proverb

When you find yourself feeling sad or lonely–during this Holiday Season or at any time during the year–do service! Serving others will benefit you in more ways than you can count.

Last week I wrote about the slump some of us find ourselves in during the holiday season. Many of my clients find themselves feeling sad and lonely during this time of the year for a plethora of reasons. Whether it is the reminder of singleness, the absence of departed loved ones, declining health, or emptied bank accounts, many of us face feelings of sadness during the holidays. While there may be a need for medication and counseling in some circumstances, often simply serving others can shake off the holiday blues.

The holiday season seems to afford many opportunities for service. Organizations, groups, schools, corporations, and churches band together for common good with Sub 4 Santas, canned food drives, openings to serve food at homeless shelters, angel trees, and a million other service opportunities. But what if you are feeling down yourself–should you get involved with service even though you are struggling yourself? Or what if it is not the Christmas season and service opportunities seem harder to come by? Absolutely! Here’s why.

A recent article in the Huffington Post entitled “The Transformative Power of Serving Others” (link included below in the resource section) lists specific benefits of service and how it can literally change your life.  Many have shared that they have walked into a service project depressed and self-centered, yet walked out focused on others and more optimistic about life and their personal circumstances. Some of the transformative effects of service listed in this article include:

  1. Improved health. When we serve others, our bodies release a hormone called oxytocin, which buffers stress and helps us maintain social trust and tranquility. In addition to that, dopamine–the mood-elevating neurotransmitter–is also released. These two hormones in and of themselves fight stress and anxiety, which, in turn, assist in lowering blood pressure, reducing mild depression, and offer a natural relief from pain. Some studies even show that service is linked to increased lifespan!
  2. Clarity. It is so easy, especially in our country and culture, to get caught up in the little things that drag us down (“first world problems”). But when you get down on the level of someone who is literally fighting to survive–be it from hunger, homelessness, or an illness–it really puts your trials, troubles, and tribulations into perspective. This clarity is sweet, lasting, and absolutely priceless.
  3. Gratitude. Along with clarity, serving others who are less fortunate than us brings great gratitude for what we do have and what is right in our lives. I will never forget coming home from a third-world country when I was a teen, and just crying as I looked into my closet full of clothes, knowing the people I had just left only had the clothes on their back. Gratitude itself is powerful, and it is nearly an automatic bi-product of service.
  4. Joy. A part of our brain lights up when we serve others. It then releases “feel-good” chemicals, like dopamine and maybe serotonin. Some may describe that “helpers high” as feeling more tranquil, peaceful, serene; others, warmer and more trusting. Volunteering our time, energy, and talents leads to deeper purpose and meaning in life; this type of joy is hard to find elsewhere!

Serving others can be easy, and it can be done in the normal course of your day. It does not only have to be during the Christmas Season, nor does it have to be through an official organization. Serving others can be as simple as smiling at a stranger, helping an elderly woman at the grocery store, volunteering at a local charity or soup kitchen; donating old clothes, books and other items you no longer need; giving a few dollars, food or a bottle of water to the homeless person standing on the street corner; doing something nice for your siblings or parents; or leaving a short note for a neighbor or co-worker telling them how much you appreciate them. Look for opportunities in your community for ways you can service; the possibilities are endless!

Service is a natural remedy for many of the things that get us down during the holiday season, as well as the other eleven months of the year. Service, coupled with any necessary therapy and medication, can have a positive transformative effect on your life. If you are interested in learning more, or are ready to make changes in your life, contact me today for personalized guidance and assistance. Let’s get out there today and lift someone else. I promise that you will feel better for having done it!

Melissa Cluff is a licensed marriage and family therapist based in Lewisville, Texas, personally seeing clients in the North Dallas area.

Resources: