- The good doctor’s scientific argument for why giving back is good for the soul.
Here’s a novel idea that has science to back it up: The best way to feel like you have more time is to give it away. While there’s no way of adding an hour or day to the 24/7, recent studies show there are ways to increase our subjective sense of having time. They propose an interesting and counterintuitive way to feel less pressed for time — by giving it away. Volunteering and doings things for others, rather than focusing on ourselves expands our sense of time. Giving time away boosts our sense of competence and efficiency.
Right around this time of year, especially, we can really feel like there isn’t enough time. According to Kathleen Vohs, Ph.D., 47% of Americans say they don’t have enough time, an epidemic she describes as “time famine”. This leads to stress, insomnia, a penchant for fast food and skipping the gym and all-round bad decision-making.
So what can we do? Saying “no” is one option (though easier said than done). Or cut down on responsibilities (also unrealistic for most of us).
But giving away your time is realistic. Time isn’t the only thing you’ll gain from volunteering and helping others. In The How of Happiness, Sonja Lyubomirsky, Ph.D., explores the many ways that volunteering makes us happier and how regular volunteers experience something called a “helpers’ high”. Dan Buettner, researcher and journalist, states in his book Thrive that “volunteers tend to weigh less, to feel healthier, to have less chance of suffering a heart attack and to score higher in every happiness domain.”
Anyone who has ever helped someone knows that the sense of satisfaction and fulfillment is invaluable. So during this hectic holiday season consider adding volunteering to your already chockablock schedule. In addition to your Thanksgiving feast, have a time feast.
Samantha Boardman MD
Clinical Instructor in Psychiatry and Public Health
Assistant Attending Psychiatrist
Weill Cornell Medical College