It’s one of those days where everything sucks.
Portland has hit freezing temperatures all week. I’m scraping ice off my windshield, trying to warm up with reheated, 3 day-old coffee. The holiday season has barely begun and already, I’m hit with a tidal wave of work and stress.
I’m in my car, driving and beyond pissed. Anxiety, fear, fatigue, hunger.
I’ve slipped into that place where I just hate the person I’m becoming more and more every minute.
At a stoplight ahead is a maroon Cadillac Deville. I slow up behind it, waiting for the light to turn. Green means go, but the Cadillac doesn’t move. I wait. Give a light honk - maybe he’s looking at his phone. Nothing.
Then an elongated blast. I’m seething now. All my frustration cathartically poured into the blaring of the car horn.
The Cadillac door opens and an elderly man steps out onto the icy asphalt. His face is stern. “Oh s**t.” I lock my doors, expecting an oncoming barrage of abuse for my tactless honking. Cars are lining up behind us as he shuffles up to my drivers side window. I crack it an inch, just to be safe.
“Can you give me a push?” he asks. He’s defeated, frustrated and fatigued. Just like me.
“Um, ya, of course.” I pull the emergency brake and hop out into the street. Putting my gloved hands on the back of his car, I look back and see the guy in the car behind me getting out. So does the guy behind him. As a team, we steer the broken down Cadillac through the intersection and into a curbside parking spot.
We all nod to each other, guy stuff, playing it cool. The old man gives us all a wave of thanks and remarks how he has a tow truck on the way.
I’m back in my car now, the light is green and I drive through the intersection. I fiddle with the radio and then it hits me – I feel better. Wow. And not just a little better, like all the way better.
Instantly, my stress, fear, and dread have leveled off. It was a miracle, almost supernatural. How is this possible?
Five minutes ago I hated everyone on earth. Then I pushed an old man’s Cadillac Deville thirty-five feet with three strangers and suddenly I’m cured. Really?
As it turns out, the science on this phenomenon is quite robust. Social connections, like the one I had that engage the physicality of our bodies and the empathic centers of our brains, release the reserves of a chemical called Oxytocin.
On a macro level, Oxytocin is the chemical that helps us bond with others and handle stress. It’s most famously known as the chemical released during sex, but it also helps mothers bond with their children, reduces social anxiety, relieves pain, fights depression, and even promotes generosity.
I’m not a doctor.
I’m not a therapist.
I’m not a psychologist.
But serving others and exercising your empathy muscles will make you feel better. Honestly.
Studies show that volunteering can boost happiness, decrease depression, relieve stress, and help you live longer.
The same is true for charitable giving. In 1989, an economist named James Andreoni theorized the Warm-Glow Giving phenomenon, concluding that people received positive emotional feelings activated by helping others. On average, people who gave away more of their money reported significantly higher levels of happiness than those who didn’t.
In 2010, more than 253 million prescriptions were written for anti-depressants in the U.S. That’s 253 million in a nation of only 311 million people.
I’m not against anti-depressants. I think they’re important, helpful, and often times necessary. But supplementing pharmaceuticals with concrete acts of service, charity, empathy, and exercise is the sure fire way to feel better.
The holidays can be hard for a lot of people. The stress of family and relationships, travel, debt, winter gloom, and more.
Want to feel better?
Give your money away. Give with your time. Volunteer. Serve. Exercise the empathic centers of your brain. Not only will you start feeling better yourself, you’ll impact the lives of others at the same time.
“For it is in giving that we receive.” - St. Francis of Assisi
My Name Is Hope: Anxiety, Depression, and Life After Melancholy - by John Mark Comer (BUY THIS BOOK)
Photo Credit: Pintaw.com