Can Contributing to Society Affect your Health?

According to the World Health Organization, five attributes contribute to healthy aging: 

  1. Maintaining the ability to meet basic needs;
  2. Continuing to learn, grow, and make decisions;
  3. Staying mobile;
  4. Building and maintaining relationships; and
  5. Contributing to society.

The last item on the list is the focus of this newsletter. Read to find out how contributing to society aligns with healthy aging. 

Last month we looked at attitude towards aging, and what scientific research shows about the impact of positivity. According to the American Medical Association, maintaining the perspective that late life can be full and filled with activities, new experiences, and a sense of “awe” contributes to brain health and can even reverse MCI (Mild Cognitive Impairment).

Many scientists, educators, artists and others who continue their work into late life seem almost ageless, and research really shows being engaged in meaningful work extends life.  However, what I find is even more impactful is that they continue to contribute to society, despite late age and even a disability. 

Purpose and meaning are still predominant in these individuals’ lives. However, most of us would never think we could be contributing to society in a meaningful way. That phrase seems like something only for those who discover a new drug or uncover a stunning insight.

I want to give us time to do some self-exploration into how we can contribute to society locally, personally, and globally:

  1. Volunteering in organizations that interact with local non-profits can change your life and that of those you are helping. The Rotary Club is a good example.
  2. Recycling as much as you can from food scraps to clothing reduces waste and has a positive effect on the environment.
  3. Reaching out to friends, family, and neighbors who are lonely or isolated contributes to better mental health, reducing depression, which has a ripple effect on health.
  4. Generosity through financial donations can make a significant impact at any level of contribution. Many wonderful organizations that jump in after a disaster are dependent on others for income so they can be there after a crisis. Therefore, giving even a small percent of your total income will help those in despair and make a bigger difference because small amounts add up – you do not have to be a millionaire to give to a good cause. It is a healthy habit to set aside a certain percentage every month for those less fortunate.
  5. You are extending your life when you can give back in even the smallest way. If you stay healthy, you are also reducing the burden on the health systems, which is its own contribution to society.

Linda and others volunteer with the Rotary Club, filling bags with school uniforms for 150 boys living in a low-income area. 

Individuals often do not think their small part can better society; however, looking at the five bullets above, you can see that it might be easier than you think. If you’re not sure where to start, try one of these tips:

  • Donating to an organization might be one action that happens without any real energy. Giving just $5 a month to an organization that helps make the world a better place might be the only thing you can do because of limited energy or funds. The return is you are contributing to society based on your values and your gift does matter.
  • Calling a senior center or religious organization to ask if they know of someone you could visit or call might improve quality of life for both you and the lonely individual. You may be asked to do a screening and background check for this type of volunteer work.
  • Most grocery stores have bins for collecting items for those challenged by food insecurity. When you shop each week, buy one extra healthy food item and put it in the bin as you leave the store. It’s a very easy habit that does not take much effort.
  • If you know a home bound person, maybe you can help them feel empowered by arranging ways for them to contribute to society as well.  Individuals that were very active but now isolated due to health will likely benefit from your encouragement or offer to serve as a “bridge” to their acts of service. It could be something as simple as providing them with materials to create “thinking of you” cards and then taking them to a nursing home, or creating seasonal decorations to take to your local community center.

Affirmation: “I contribute to society by caring for the earth and many other activities.