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Helping Others and Helping Ourselves in Tough Times

May 16, 2011

Helping Others and Helping Ourselves in Tough Times

In good economic times the volunteer rate in America has remained reasonably steady, however it has declined since its peak prior to the recession. According to the Corporation for National and Community Service, the volunteer rate in 2003, 2004 and 2005, when the economy was strong and the unemployment rate low, was 28.8% of U.S residents, which is approximately 65.4 million volunteers. Last year it was 26.8%, a 2 point drop which means that 7% fewer people are volunteering now than then. The number of volunteer hours has also fallen from its high in 2004 of 37.9 hours per resident per year to 34.2 in 2009, a 9% drop.

These data mean that charitable organizations and nonprofits have been hit with a double whammy. In addition to the lower amount of volunteerism, Giving USA Foundation and its research partner, the Center on Philanthropy at Indiana University, estimates donations have fallen by an estimated 3.6% in 2009 from the 2008 level. They also report that giving to human service organizations feel by 13.5%. Ironically, the sector that has experienced the greatest increase in demand for its services suffered the greatest decrease in donations. 

The hardship of being unemployed creates anxiety and stress on both the individuals and their families. Financial challenges and debt mount along with self doubt. It diminishes feelings of self-esteem and self worth. It seems these burdens are also somewhat immobilizing for many people. For example, the American Time Use Survey, conducted by the U.S. Department of Labor, reveals that the average unemployed person spends only thirty minutes a day looking for a job, and that only one in six actually look for a job in a given day.

The unemployment rate in the United States is currently 9.8% and has been 9.6% or higher for over a year. With a significantly larger pool of people available to volunteer than in normal times, the volunteer rate has actually declined. Yet work of any kind, whether it is for a salary or as a volunteer, enhances feelings of self-worth and strengthens self-esteem.

One of the ways we can help ourselves maintain or enhance our dignity and pride, especially in personally troubling times, is by reaching out to and assisting others.  It makes us feel less isolated and better about ourselves because we are giving back and contributing to something worthy.

Dr. Karl Menninger, founder of the Menninger Institute, when asked what he would do if he felt a nervous breakdown overcoming him replied, “I’d go across the way and help someone else.” He recognized that our own mental health, identity, and confidence are bound up in our relationship with others and how we can contribute to a greater good. When we concentrate on helping others and taking constructive action, our own problems are no longer occupy center stage in our lives. The way out of our problems is with and through others. That is one of the secrets to living a fulfilling and satisfying life.

Perhaps the best gift we can give ourselves is the gift of ourselves. By extending ourselves to others and contributing to a greater good we enrich our own lives. 

Steve Weitzenkorn

Our book, Find Fulfill Flourish, was named a Finalist in the Self Help category of the 2011 Next Generation Indie Book Awards. Ben Bolch of the Los Angeles Times calls it “an inspirational tour de force” Click here to purchase it. Click here for an overview and here for a free sample chapter. Book readers also receive FREE access to all premium exercises and content on our website.

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