Want to extend your life expectancy?
“That was fun,” I said to Dan as we drove home. “And part of the fun is our crew, isn’t it?” He agreed.
Dan and I are on a team that filled more than 200 take-out boxes with hot meals last evening. Family Kitchen is a non-profit in town that provides daily meals for the homeless and disadvantaged in our community.
The volunteer work at Family Kitchen is enjoyable. But the social aspect—the conversation and laughter and catching up with each other—makes it even more fun.
Over the past couple of decades, a growing stack of evidence has shown that social behavior—including helping others—improves our mental and physical health and extends life expectancy.
This quote, by husband-and-wife journalists Nicholas Kristoff and Sheryl WuDunn, is from their book, A Path Appears. The couple writes about their on-the-ground interviews in third world countries to assess needs and suggest best practices for assisting. (Sometimes our best intentions can cause more harm than good, depending on the cultural norms.)
Looking for ways to serve was one of the things that bolstered my first husband and me during his cancer years. Giving back and finding meaning gave us courage as we grieved the relentlessness of this disease.
For several weeks after Dan’s wife died of cancer, all he wanted to do was hunker down at home—go nowhere, do nothing, see no one.
But the men from his church called and said, in essence, “You’re coming with us. We’re going to do some renovations on Shepherd’s House for homeless women. We need you for an electrical project at Ochoco Family Conference Center. You and I are going to Mexico to deliver textbooks and assist the locals.” Turns out, this was part of his healing process.
Kristoff and WuDunn go on to say:
Maybe this deep-rooted social element in all of us explains our yearning for a life of meaning. We wonder about our purpose; we care about our legacy.
A couple years ago, I attended a church in Tucson, AZ, for three or four weeks in a row. These thoughts from my sermon notes (Pastor Waylon Sears):
I have no right to take my education, my life experiences, my gifts and abilities and go do what I want. I have no right to live a vision-less, purpose-less life.
Dan’s gifts lie in the area of fixing and building things: shower trucks and leaky faucets and engines that won’t start.
My gifts are writing and hospitality. I love meeting new people and hearing their stories.
Although our gifts and abilities differ, they blend beautifully.
Here’s the thing: No one else can do exactly what you and your spouse, or you and your siblings/kids/parents/cousins, or you and your friends can do together.
Whatever good can be done individually is exponentially more powerful as a community, a family, a couple.
This is life–extending math, where 1 + 1 equals so much more than 2.