One of the reasons depression gets such a grip on our lives, is that it’s all about us. We may feel miserable and want to hide, but we are still at the center of our own little world of pain, and we may be more comfortable there than we care to admit.
As difficult as it seems, switching our attention to doing good for someone else pushes our depression to second place, and perhaps eventually out of our awareness.
But there are ego traps that can coexist with the idea of service. And if we want to appear helpful for the wrong reasons, it can just make us more resentful and depressed in the long run.
Find something you genuinely care about. All around your community there are people who need basic necessities, and agencies trying to meet these needs. It could be a soup kitchen, Meals-on-Wheels, or tutoring for people learning English. Rely on your own instincts to find somewhere that you will feel comfortable, and can provide the most help. Someone else’s idea of a great way to volunteer may not be great for you.
Don’t go looking for gratitude or reward. Serving people to boost your ego will do little to beat depression. Service is not about you. And that is what makes it such a freeing experience. Focus on who you want to help, and just forget about yourself for a while.
People in a food line may be truly grateful for a hot meal, but unable to express it. Many of them may suffer from some level of depression themselves, which has led them to the circumstances they are in. If you receive a smile from someone, know it is sincere, and be grateful yourself for your chance to do some good.
If you need some kind of feedback for the help you give, try an animal shelter. Animals have no pride to protect, and they let you know immediately how much it means that someone cares for them.
Start with your own family. As with any kind of caring, it needs to be focused on what people actually need or want, not what they think they should have. It is all too easy in our families to feel taken for granted by our spouses or children. So take stock of the things you do for them every day. Are you doing what matters to them, or to yourself?
Are you making yourself exhausted, for example, fixing big meals when no one is hungry, because you have an image of what a good mom is supposed to do? Maybe you really need to be a teacher, so they can learn independence. Or maybe what your family needs from you is your attention, or a listening ear.
Real service is about the attitude of giving. Feeling yourself part of a generous universe. And when you truly give from the heart you can discover the joy giving brings. The world becomes a much bigger and fuller place when it’s not all about you.