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  • Writer's pictureEmily Brewster

Intentional Contributions & Acts of Service: How Showing Up for Others Can Boost Your Mood & Well-Being

Mental health is a crucial aspect of our overall health and there are many ways we can influence our well-being. Common strategies include processing thoughts and emotions in therapy, making changes to our nutrition and activity levels, medication, and shaping our day-to-day behaviors. One domain, often overlooked, is our social engagement level, particularly when it applies to community and contribution. Giving back to others can be a way to feel connected to humanity, experience community, and live more aligned with our values.


hand reaching out to the sunset in a field

Understanding Intentional Contribution

Intentional contribution involves purposefully engaging in actions that benefit others or society at large. It goes beyond random acts of kindness, focusing on thoughtful and deliberate acts. Contributing to others and humanity doesn’t have to be intense, elaborate, or financial. Acts of support and service to others can come in many forms and their impact is as unique as the person who is carrying them out.


Showing up for others in small, simple ways does not mean we abandon our needs or overextend ourselves, just for the sake of others. Rather, inviting intention into the process of giving back requires us to know our own limits, honor them, and commit to showing up in ways that are sustainable and meaningful. It’s an opportunity to get in touch with yourself, evaluate your values, and commit to action (whether that means choosing to show up OR take time to rest and reset). Remember, intention is key here. We can’t say yes to everything, but we can be intentional about choosing the acts and service that mean the most, so we can show up wholeheartedly.


How Intentional Contribution Improves Mental Health


people reaching out for a hand

1. Sense of Purpose:

Contributing to others provides a sense of purpose and meaning in life, especially when we are showing up in areas that are aligned with our values and interests.

Knowing that your actions positively impact someone else's life can be fulfilling. Having a sense of duty to show up, whether in person or in action, can be a valuable reason to get out of bed in the morning; especially when times are hard. People can feel a real sense of competency and mastery when they accomplish something they have committed to.


people resting their hands on a log in forest

2. Increased Social Connection:

Acts of contribution often involve interactions with others, fostering social connections. Humans are naturally inclined to desire connection with others; it’s how we have survived as a species for this long! Social connections are vital for mental well-being and can reduce feelings of loneliness; a leading contributor to depression for many across the globe.

Social connection doesn’t always involve talking either. Even sharing space with others, seeing new faces, and being out in the world can help us feel closer to humanity. Connection can also be experienced outside of our interactions with people too. Maybe you feel most whole when you are in nature or with animals. These are meaningful connections that can be a potent antidote for loneliness.


3. Improved Mood:

Showing up for others can boost your mood. Engaging in acts of kindness and service triggers the release of neurotransmitters like dopamine and oxytocin. These chemicals contribute to feelings of happiness, connectedness, and acceptance and play a major role in our mood and perspective. The more satisfaction you derive from your experiences, the more likely you’ll feel motivated to do them in the future. Even if it feels hard to find the motivation to do the activities at first, commit to taking action anyways. Your motivation will likely show up when you are in the middle of doing the activity.


artistic image of neural pathways

4. Stress Management & Reduction:

Helping others can act as a stress buffer, reducing the impact of stress on mental and physical health. When we are ‘doing’ and participating intentionally in the moment, we naturally get out of our heads and into our actions. Participating in acts of service shifts our focus and redirects attention away from personal worries or anxious thoughts. This doesn’t mean we ignore or avoid our own problems or feelings, but we can gift ourselves a break from the intensity and permission to widen our attention. Chances are, when we’ve had space and time from the endless cycle of worries, we can make more intentional and clear decisions when we come back to them.


women embracing each other in support

5. Reminders of our Humanity

Lending a hand to others, particularly those who are faced with a struggle or adversity, can remind us of our own humanness. When we ourselves are faced with hardship or crisis, it can feel like we are the only person who is hurting or suffering. This compounds loneliness and can make it even more difficult to ask for support. By showing up for others, when we can and choose to, we can learn that all humans struggle and deserve the care and support of others. In turn, we can learn to be much kinder and more compassionate towards ourselves in our moments of hurt and sorrow.


Practical Ways to Intentionally Contribute:


volunteers moving boxes

1. Volunteer:

Dedicate time to a cause or organization

aligned with your values. Volunteering is one way that provides direct contribution to the community. Consider programs that have meaning to you (or that have maybe helped you in the past). Volunteering, even for an hour out of your week, can make a difference for you and those you are gifting your time to.

Great places to consider volunteering are local food banks, animal shelters, schools, businesses, and other local public services and organizations. Don’t feel limited by this list: options are endless and differ depending on what your community looks like and what you’re passionate about.


2. Expressing Kindness & Gratitude Through Action:

Small gestures, such as offering help or expressing gratitude, can have a significant impact. Acts of kindness create a ripple effect, positively influencing both the giver and receiver. Smiling or greeting others in passing, opening the door for someone, offering to help a friend or partner with a chore or task, creating something for someone else, or simply telling someone how much you appreciate them are small, but mighty ideas. Offering gratitude, help, and understanding strengthens relationships and connections.


person holding sea shells on the beach

Creating a Path for Contributing Intentionally


Intentional contribution and acts of service are additional elements to consider when supporting your well-being and mental health. By mindfully and intentionally contributing to others and causes that matter most to us, we not only improve our own well-being but also create change in our communities.


Remember, the key lies in the intention behind the contribution. Small, intentional acts can have a profound impact on mental health and contribute to a more fulfilling life. It’s critical to honor our own bandwidth and capacity and ask for help or space when we need it most AND its life-shaping to get involved in values-driven activity that is meaningful. Take time to reflect on causes, people, or concepts that are valuable or important to you. Consider offering your time and presence to these causes and notice the impact it has on yourself and those around you.


 

Emily Brewster

Emily Brewster, MSW, LICSW, MHP

Emily Brewster is the founder, owner, & therapist at Light of the Moon Counseling, PLLC. Emily offers individual mental health therapy services via telehealth to adults dealing with depression, anxiety, grief, and trauma. She is a US Army Veteran and is passionate about educating others about mental health and effective strategies to find relief.



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