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By Caroline Fleck

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About this blog: I am a clinical psychologist, mother, and wife committed to using my life to help the lives of those around me. In addition to seeing clients in my private practice, I contribute to various training and research initiatives in cli...  (More)

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Help Others, Help Yourself - Compassion In Action

Uploaded: Jan 13, 2015
This week is all about serving others and how, ironically, serving others is one of the top 10 best things you can do for your own mental health.

In my work with clients, I consistently emphasize the significance of working to reduce suffering in others. I do this with clients managing depression, anxiety, work dissatisfaction, interpersonal conflicts, the list goes on and on, and literally includes just about everyone I see.

My reasons for doing this are plain and simple: despite what television advertisements and billboards suggest, spending time accumulating stuff isn't likely to significantly improve your mood over time. You'll get a quick burst of excitement for a few hours, maybe a few days, and then you'll just want more stuff.

However, spending time caring for and helping others has been shown to significantly improve a range of psychological factors including confidence, self-awareness, self-esteem, depression, well-being, social-connectedness, life satisfaction, and coping (Schwartz & Sendor, 1999; Fredrickson et al., 2008; Hofmann et al., 2011; Hutcherson et al., 2008; Mascaro et al., 2012; Mongrain et al., 2011; Buchanan & Bardi, 2010). I think we can all agree that there isn't a watch, television set, or clothing item that can claim to do the same. And yet, when we think of how to improve our mood or cheer someone up, we often turn to shopping.

Anecdotally, in my work connecting people with opportunities to serve others has often represented *the* turning point in therapy. From the self-injuring adolescent who decided to commit himself to vegetarianism, to the chronically depressed mother of two who began volunteering at the local multiple sclerosis chapter and contributing to housing builds abroad, I've seen people transform and improve their lives by helping others.

So where to begin? What's realistic? What can you do when you are already doing so much for your family?

If you have lots of time on you hands or are hoping to really shake things up in 2015, consider becoming involved in a favorite cause. For me it has always been about the animals. And I could literally go on and on about opportunities for helping animals as this is where I've focused most of my volunteer work. In the Bay Area, check out the Humane Society of Silicon Valley, they need all sorts of volunteers requiring varying levels of commitment. For animal issues beyond domestic pets, check out PETA - they too are always looking for volunteers in and around the Bay Area.

Not sure what your calling is or how to connect with volunteer programs? Check out Silicon Valley One Brick. They have an *excellent* model for supporting non-profits with an emphasis on "commitment free" volunteering for those of us with little time to offer. They also promote community building by hosting get togethers following each event.

If you have some sense of what interests you and/or the location in which you'd like to focus, check out volunteermatch.org. You can search for opportunities to volunteer based on the type of cause (e.g., health & medicine, children & youth) or location (e.g., local, national, or international).

If you have little time on your hands, consider integrating a 10-minute loving kindness meditation practice into your daily routine. There is extensive research on the benefits of Loving Kindness Meditation; evidence now suggests that even a short, 10-minute practice can increase social connectedness and positivity towards strangers (Hutcherson et al., 2008). Check out this free, guided meditation on YouTube to learn more.

Finally, if you have experiences with compassion in action or practice, please share them with us. Know of a great volunteer opportunity? Leave a comment with the details below. Have you found a Loving Kindness Practice that resonates with you? Tell us about it. My experience has been that most people genuinely want to help and contribute; we just don't always know where or how to begin.
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Comments

 +   2 people like this
Posted by Lauren, a resident of another community,
on Jan 13, 2015 at 5:48 pm

Hello again! I was literally JUST talking to my fiance last night about this! I was explaining that I want to start some sort of blog discussing things I have done, have been doing, or would like to do that have made me a happier person. For example, I have recently stopped eating meat for multiple reasons, and have started occasionally trying to have vegan days as well. This has made me feel better about my effect on climate change as well as not contributing to animal cruelty. Another example is switching to a Bobble water bottle that I carry with me so I don't use plastic bottles, or bringing my own mug for tea at school rather than using paper ones each day. As far as helping others, even something as simple as my New Years resolution being to send a birthday card to everyone in my family this year. We also started fostering dogs last year. I'm not saying all this to brag on myself, I'm saying it because I have noticed a difference in my attitude and happiness when I feel that I am contributing to the world in a positive way. I believe this attitude is contagious and when someone see's you help a mom with her stroller up the stairs they in turn go out of their way to do something nice for someone. The point behind my blog will be to show small things you can do to make an impact, because sometimes it seems overwhelming how much needs to change and then we wind up not even trying at all. But by doing little things here and there, it adds up! A great post as always!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Caroline Fleck, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jan 13, 2015 at 7:51 pm

Caroline Fleck is a registered user.

I love the idea for your blog! It's like a butterfly effect approach to compassion, and I couldn't agree more with the idea that seemingly small acts of kindness can have a huge effect. Thanks for sharing!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Joelle, a resident of another community,
on Jan 14, 2015 at 1:20 pm

I couldn't agree more! I have 5 year old twin boys and another son that will turn 4 next month, so I am always struggling with having enough time for everything, let alone "extras" in life. However, in the big picture of life we all could use a gentle reminder that doing an act of kindness does not have to be hours upon hours. If we all paused for a moment to reach out and help one another or a cause, the world would be a better place and in turn, so would our own inner being.

Here's to 2015 to try to Give and Grow More...!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Caroline Fleck, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jan 14, 2015 at 1:49 pm

Caroline Fleck is a registered user.

Thanks Joelle. I like that notion of "give to grow." So often it seems we need to consume in order to grow - consume food, consume water, etc. The idea of giving to grow is interesting and one that I think challenges us to be a bit more intentional about the direction in which we grow. Thanks again for the comment!


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Laurier , a resident of Old Mountain View,
on Jan 27, 2015 at 3:22 pm

I see patients when at work, and I have noticed that no matter how bad my mood at the start of a work day, it always improves the minute I walk into that first exam room and start focusing on someone other than myself. I love animals, too, and there are many rescue groups in the area that always need volunteers for foster homes, drivers, etc--in addition to HSSV, I would mention Pound Puppy Rescue and Fred's Friends. Both have websites and Facebook pages.


 +  Like this comment
Posted by Caroline Fleck, a Mountain View Online blogger,
on Jan 27, 2015 at 6:41 pm

Caroline Fleck is a registered user.

Ooh, I hadn't even heard of Pound Puppy Rescue. I just looked them up and found what I think is their main website: http://www.poundpuppyrescue.org/

Thanks again Laurier!


 +  Like this comment
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on Aug 28, 2017 at 10:56 pm

This is very rightly said helping others means helping yourself because someday you will get the help from the similar person which you helped them before.
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