Smart Health

New Year, New Opportunities to Serve

Volunteering is a great way to boost your emotional well-being.

The new year marks a time of self-reflection and an opportunity for change. We take stock of the previous year, looking at past mistakes in hopes of avoiding a repeat of those pitfalls. Hopefully, we also use this time to acknowledge the things that went well—personal and professional victories, improvements in our relationships with others, or meeting challenges and achieving goals. As we look forward to the new year, we can use all of these experiences to craft a plan for continued development that will enhance our health and well-being.

While inward reflection is certainly critical, perhaps this is the year to also consider how turning outward can have an even greater impact on ourselves and others. Service, broadly defined, represents an opportunity to solve the real issues facing our community. It also benefits our mental health by enhancing our sense that we have a deeper meaning and purpose. Furthermore, serving others can help to release a bit of our despair about the sometimes depressing conditions in society, giving us fuel to fight bigotry and injustices both big and small.

Scrolling through social media, it’s abundantly clear that people have strong opinions on issues affecting LGBTQ folks. Is there a cause that carries particular meaning for you, perhaps based on your experiences or those of a friend or family member? Consider moving your activism from Facebook or TikTok to real life. Are there organizations that could benefit from a bit of elbow grease supplied by volunteers like you? Absolutely. Making a commitment to service in 2023—through a favorite organization and with other people—could be one of the most important resolutions you make this year.

Studies have shown that volunteering has a positive impact on society, on those receiving a service, and on the individuals who are donating their time and talent. Community service provides exposure to people from many backgrounds and across generations. Volunteer experiences expand our understanding of different cultures, contributing to a more honest perspective of both ourselves and the world.

Ideally, volunteers will be mindful of the ideas and values of those they are serving, so that rather than swooping in to “save” people, volunteers can work collaboratively to find mutually agreed-on solutions.
Also, being of service is habit-forming. The people who are most likely to volunteer are those who have volunteered in the past. There is something about the experience that fosters a greater sense of connection with others, and contributes to a rewarding feeling of altruism.

Consider your own talents. What strengths can you offer to individuals and communities? There is something positive about evaluating your skills and deciding what it is that you can offer. In truth, no gift or talent is too small or insignificant. This is an opportunity for you to evaluate your place in the broader community and decide exactly how you can best be of service.

Approach your volunteer work not only with a sense of service, but also with a sense of adventure. Perhaps you can begin by selecting several organizations to become involved with, and try a different one each month. When you find an organization that really connects with your values, starting a deeper relationship with that community should naturally follow.

Incorporating a renewed sense of service into your goals for 2023 can be a fantastic way of ringing in the new year. Rather than just focusing on going back to the gym or changing your diet, think about how you can connect with the broader community. You’ll be off to a great start on the path to gratitude and mental wellness.

This article appears in the January 2023 edition of OutSmart magazine.


Daryl Shorter, MD

Daryl Shorter, MD, is a Diplomate of the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology and is board certified in both general and addiction psychiatry. His clinical practice focuses on the use of psychotherapy and medications to treat mental health and substance use disorders. Dr. Shorter serves as the psychiatrist of record at The Montrose Center and lectures widely on LGBTQ mental health and wellness. Dr. Shorter can be reached at [email protected].
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