Acts of Kindness is a Two-Way Street

Homeless. Unemployed. Hungry. Single parent, homeless. Veteran unemployed. Will work for food. Please help me. We see these words written on pieces of ripped up cardboard boxes, held in the hands or lying by the tired bodies of the most destitute of our fellow man. They're in the largest and busiest of cities, between the never-ending congestions of cars in the streets and pedestrians along the sidewalks: men, women or children sitting at the base of tall buildings or lying on the sidewalks next to lamp posts, covered in whatever they can find to protect against the weather. We see them sleeping on park benches or walking along the country road of small rural communities, carrying their life’s belongings in sacks over their shoulder or in shopping carts. Whether it’s complete strangers living on the streets to survive, people struggling within our own community, our inner circle or our own families, our world is never in short supply of people in dire situations. But many of us today feel overly stressed or too busy to worry about helping others, as we try to maintain focus of taking care of ourselves and our own families, or we say we’ll dedicate some of our spare time to good deeds and helping others. Other times, when we come across these unfortunate souls while living our own lives, we may feel fear, suspicion, sorrow, empathy or contempt as we pass by, turning our eyes away to snuff out or avoid those feelings. But when we do the exact opposite by turning to those who need help, it comes with tremendously positive returns for your own personal health. Whether it’s being there for someone when they need someone to talk to, bringing gifts to children in the hospital, dropping cash in a homeless person’s cup or joining the Peace Corps, performing acts of kindness has proven to be a two way street. According to the Mental Health Foundation in the U.K., doing good does you good. We know the good feeling we experience when we extend a helping hand or do some form of charitable act. But research shows that helping others is actually beneficial for your own mental and physical health, aiding in reducing stress and depressive symptoms while improving your morale, self-esteem, happiness and overall emotional wellbeing. In the Mental Health Foundation’s 2012 report, “Doing Good: Altruism and wellbeing in an age of austerity,” functional MRI scans showed that altruistic behaviours--acting in the interest of someone else--activated the brain’s mesolimbic reward system, an area that is activated when we are rewarded, implying that such behaviour may give us a euphoric physical sensation, or a ‘helper’s high,’ which can improve emotional wellbeing and reduce stress in the long term. A poll conducted by the foundation also showed that, of 2,037 people, 80% agreed that being kind has a positive influence on their own health, and 87% percentage said that they felt good after being kind, adopting a positive self-identity as a ‘good’ person. Reasons for this include increased social support and encouragement to lead physically active lifestyles. Doing so also distracts from one’s own problems and engages them in meaningful activity. Volunteering can also be a great health benefit. As our world is never in short supply of people down on their luck who need help, there is no shortage of opportunities to bring love and comfort to their lives. Volunteerism can be your means of helping them improve their wellbeing and longevity as well as yours. Volunteering as an adult is more common in people who either work part-time or who are retired. Socially isolated older adults gain most from volunteering as it helps improve mood and confidence, reduces isolation and helps give them a sense of purpose. Younger people, such as students, also benefit greatly from volunteerism, as the experience helps them develop higher future aspirations, self-esteem and motivation toward school work than non-volunteers. The Knights of Columbus (KOC) is one of the top organizations that generate and provide assistance and opportunities who struggle for or are without the means to do so themselves. You’ve probably seen them during their Intellectual Disability Drive, where they meet and greet people outside different restaurants, stores and churches wearing their yellow vests and holding large coffee cans collecting donations for The Arc and the Special Olympics. Many KOC councils throughout the United States organize and provide other services to their community’s poor and impoverished. Council 5561 in Warrenton, Virginia, hosts a variety of events throughout the year to help fund their charitable efforts, which include helping families enjoy Thanksgiving and Christmas by providing food baskets. They have even hosted a Thanksgiving dinner on Thanksgiving Day.   “The thanks we receive are nice,” said Seth McQuillan of New Jersey. “During these types of activities we receive a lot of ‘attaboys’ and ‘thanks for what you do.’" McQuillan is a Past Grand Knight (PGK) who has been with the Knights of Columbus Council 5730 in Scotch Plains, New Jersey, for about six years. In addition to the Intellectual Disabilities Drive, his council also hosts a rose sale that funds Several Sources Shelters, a home for unwed mothers in New Jersey that was featured in the film, Gimme Shelter. The council also presents the Shield Award to first responders and members of the local police, fire and rescue departments every year, and coordinates with St. Bartholomew Academy students in writing letters of encouragement to seminarians from their archdiocese.    Their most significant event is “Coats for Kids.”  The parishioners from both St. Bartholomew and Immaculate Heart of Mary churches in Scotch Plains dig deep to generate more than $11,000 towards purchasing $20 coats for kids. “The thanks that we receive are nice,” said McQuillan.  “When those thanks are from the ultimate recipient, it is even more special. Most of the kids that receive the coats have never had a new garment. The coats are all brand new and have tags. The smiles on their faces are brilliant. One smile makes it all worthwhile.” As we focus on providing and caring for ourselves and our own families, taking time out of our already busy lives to volunteer and help complete strangers may seem like less of a priority with little to no return. But when someone comes to you pleading for your guidance, or you pass by an old lady struggling with handling groceries or you see someone lying by the lamp post, try to take that time to the walk that two-way street of caring for yourself by caring for another.     Work Cited: Robotham, Dan and Isabella Goldie, Lauren Chakkalackal, Chris White, Kirsten Morgan and Dr Eva Cyhlarova. “Doing Good? Altruism and wellbeing in an age of austerity”. London, England: Mental Health Foundation, 2012. https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/publications/doing-good-altruism-and-wellbeing-age-austerity Nordstrom, Todd. “Science Says Kindness Can Make You a Better Leader. Here Are 3 Reasons”. Inc.com, June 4th, 2018. https://www.inc.com/todd-nordstrom/research-says-kindness-can-make-you-a-better-leader-here-are-3-reasons-why.html “Does Charitable Activity Help Improve Mental Health?”. Vantagepointrecovery.com. Date accessed, May 3rd 2019. https://vantagepointrecovery.com/giving-back-improves-mental-health/ Stossel, John. “Real Charity”. Creators.com, December 4th, 2013. https://www.creators.com/read/john-stossel/12/13/real-charity Macmillan, Amanda“Being Generous Really Does Make You Happier”. Time.com. July 14th 2017.  http://time.com/4857777/generosity-happiness-brain/

My Missionary Journey Led Me to Counseling

This blog post was written by Abby Kowitz, a Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling student at Divine Mercy University. She is also a regular contributor for Mind & Spirit. “What they need is Jesus.” I will never forget those words that I first heard during my orientation as a Christ in the City missionary. I had just committed myself to a year of living in community with 14 other Catholic young adults to go out into the streets of downtown Denver and help the homeless. I was scared out of my mind and clung to those words as my support and encouragement while I continually put myself in uncomfortable situations in an attempt to spread the gospel and share Jesus with those I met on the streets. The year and the experience was, in a word, beautiful. It brought about an inner-transformation and growth that has changed the trajectory of my life and I am forever grateful for it. I don’t doubt that the work we did was beneficial for others, but throughout the year I couldn’t shake the gnawing feeling that perpetuated my thoughts – “Am I actually helping those I’m encountering?” In terms of the mission, I think the answer is a hard yes. As missionaries, we embarked to witness Christ in the poor and be Christ to them in return. Did I do it perfectly? By no means! But I gave it my best shot, and to that degree, I did fulfill the mission I set out to do. What I realize in hindsight however, is that I mistook that statement, “What they need is Jesus,” as sufficient in and of itself, and to be quite honest, and at the risk of sounding like a heretic, it’s not. Though God is the creator and holds everything in his hands, as human beings he created our mind, body and soul. At different times certain components may be more prominent than others, but in order to flourish each part is integrated holistically. [caption id="attachment_190" align="alignright" width="300"] Christ in the City missionaries who volunteered in Denver to help the homeless.[/caption] Was the work I did with Christ in the City wrong? No, but it emphasized the spiritual and physical components – did the homeless know the love of Christ and did they have a place to stay that night? Yet the people I was meeting on the streets day after day not only had spiritual and practical brokenness, but mental brokenness as well. That was the tool that was missing from my belt. I continually witnessed addictions, depression, PTSD, and every other mental illness you could name, and I had no idea what to do with it. What’s more, I began to become aware of my own mental health and that of my fellow missionaries. Yes, we were cultivating deep prayer lives, yet I could see intense anxiety, insomnia, the aftermath of childhood trauma, and even depression amongst us. How was I to respond? It was through this experience with both the homeless and my fellow missionaries that I truly felt the desire and call to pursue a career in mental health. Everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum of mental health. No one is exempt from it and seeking to improve your mental health is not something reserved for the “crazy.” Our lives as Christians are marked by suffering – we imitate Christ on the cross and the question of hard experiences and tragedies is not so much a matter of if as much as when. Each and every one of us will face difficulties whether they’re obvious to others or not, and we need to be able to cope with them and grow into better human beings because of them. The ability to do that is not the result of prayer alone, but a thorough awareness of the psychology of the human person and the need to integrate it into our lives. We may not fully understand it (not everyone can nor is called to pursue a career in counseling), but by realizing that our mental health is an essential component to our flourishing and giving it the time and attention it deserves, our lives can truly give glory to God. [caption id="attachment_194" align="alignleft" width="504"] Fellow Master's in Counseling students during one of our residencies in Arlington, VA,.[/caption] Through my education at Divine Mercy University, I am slowly gaining the tools I realized I lacked and yearned for during my time as a missionary, and my vision of the human person is continually sharpening. These tools are a gift and I cannot wait to share them with others, whether they be my clients, peers, family members and, even, myself.     Interested in pursuing a career in counseling? Request information about the online Master of Science in Clinical Mental Health Counseling program at Divine Mercy University.
About DMU
Divine Mercy University (DMU) is a Catholic graduate university of psychology and counseling programs. It was founded in 1999 as the Institute for the Psychological Sciences. The university offers a Master of Science (M.S.) in Psychology, Master of Science (M.S.) in Counseling, Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) in Clinical Psychology, and Certificate Programs.