How Doing Good Helps You

Like a lot of Boomers these days, you may be leading a full and fairly stressful life. Here’s a counterintuitive way to make yourself feel better both emotionally and physically. Add one more item to your To Do list: volunteering. And if you’re retired with a little leisure on your hands, filling the void with projects that reach out to others is a scientifically proven way to boost your morale and your immune system at the same time.

Researcher Alan Luks, longtime head of Big Brothers and Sisters, coined the term “helper’s high” after completing a study of over 3000 men and women. He found that those who gave of themselves most often were 10 times more likely to enjoy robust health than people who didn’t volunteer at all. The biochemical explanation for this phenomenon is that endorphins, our inner painkillers and mood elevators, are released in significant quantities when we show compassion and kindness to those in need.

In the years since Luks published his findings in a book called “The Healing Power of Doing Good,” several other researchers have corroborated his results. It’s now irrefutable that you not only get warm fuzzy feelings when you touch someone’s life in a positive way but that you also have a better shot at avoiding illness. Your sense of self-worth will ratchet up as well.

Even random acts of kindness will produce the desired results, but a regular routine of contributing to the betterment of others is the most effective route to take. Helping family and friends counts a little, but the research consistently shows that making a difference for people outside your own circle is what truly gives you the rush of euphoria and the renewed vigor.

Convinced? You could get started simply by offering your services at your local soup kitchen or you can consult the national organizations listed below. They have thousands of ways to show you care. Possibilities range from offering your skills and expertise to sitting on Boards of arts organizations to candy striping at hospitals:

Encore Careers

This organization, which is part of Civic Ventures, promotes a lifestyle that combines passion and purpose. Aimed at Boomers, Encore Careers gives annual Purpose Prizes to ten people or couples who have contributed the most to the common good that year. The top award is $100,000. Nobody ever said you couldn’t get helper’s high and some decent cash to go with it!


This is a searchable database of the nation’s not-for-profits. Fiscal documents such a 990s are posted on Guidestar so that you know you’re connecting with legitimate organizations that have transparent finances. You’ll also find unsolicited reviews of the charities so you can learn how others view the missions, visions, and accomplishments.

Taproot Foundation

The motto of Taproot is “Make It Matter.” Not-for-profits can apply to get specific pro bono help such as financial or legal advice, marketing savvy, IT skills, and much more. If you want to be involved, you can offer your services and be matched with an organization or two.


This site lists over 13,000 volunteer opportunities. The home page of Idealist.org says: “Whether you can spare a few hours or an entire year, we have an opportunity for you.” There are also tips on volunteering both for first timers and those in need of a refresher.

We hope you’ll find it in you to activate your inherent sense of altruism. True, you could simply write a check if you have the resources to do that, but a true helper’s high comes from being involved. In the words of Mother Teresa: “Let us not be satisfied with just giving money. Money is not enough, money can be got, but they need your hearts to love them. So, spread your love everywhere you go.”

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