Valdosta Daily Times

January 2, 2014

The art of being good

Matthew Woody
The Valdosta Daily Times

VALDOSTA — Countless people have walked on the earth, and only a handful of them are required to be remembered.

Some are only remembered for the wrongs they committed, Genghis Khan, Leopold II of Belgium, or Vlad Dracula, but there are others who are remembered for their humanitarianism such as, Mother Teresa, the Dalai Lama, Martin Luther King, Mahatma Gandhi, and Abraham Lincoln.

The important question to ask yourself is how do you want history to remember you? Even if only your family and friends remember you, your legacy is all you truly leave behind.

Community service has a negative connotation because when someone breaks the law, community service is often dished out as a punishment. But in reality, serving the community is one of the best things you can do for others, and for yourself.

“There are so many people in Valdosta doing good things for this community,” said Dr. Thomas Hochschild, a Valdosta State University assistant professor of sociology. “There are a lot of reasons to do good things both, psychologically and physically. A lot of research shows that by helping others or by volunteering in the community, it increases your life expectancy, it decreases depression, and it decreases stress levels.”

This begs the question, “Is there ever a truly altruistic act?” To make this question even harder to answer, Hochschild explained a phenomenon called the “Helper’s High,” that occurs when you help others, or provide a selfless service.

“It makes you feel good about yourself, and that’s associated with lower levels of depression and increased vitality,” Hochschild said.

Volunteering requires you to get off of the couch, Hochschild explained.

“If you’re lifting cans at Second Harvest, then you’re up, you’re moving, you’re getting your heart rate up, so that’s the physical aspect. Then there’s the helper’s high, feeling like you’re making a difference.”

More than the emotional and physical benefits, Hochschild discussed how goodness ripples outwards into the “Ripple Effect.”

“The ripple effect occurs whenever you’re good to people,” Hochschild said. “A study by a Harvard sociologist found when people give money to others, those people are more likely to give money and pay it forward to other people, and it created this sort-of like ripple effect. This really happens in real life, and there’s research to back this up. It creates this positive ripple effect.”

Extending farther than money, this also occurs with good deeds. If you are a positive influence in the community, and people see your acts of kindness, then they are more likely to replicate your  actions. It is no surprise that this also works in the opposite direction. If you are irritated at the super market, then you are more likely to make someone else irritated, too.

Community service, Hochschild argues, is something we should be teaching our kids. It is something society should want to do — once a week or once a month.

Whether it is for selfish reasons, such as the helper’s high, or completely altruistic, at the end of the day, community service helps others.

“One way or another, even if you’re doing nothing, you’re having an effect on others, so what do you want to do with your life? Do you want to set a bad example or a good example?” Hochschild asked.

So, hold the door for that random stranger, let the person in line behind you with two items jump in front of you and your full shopping cart, or take an hour or two out of your week and volunteer at one of the organizations around your community.

This is the best way to live your life because you are guaranteed to leave a lasting impact on those that you meet. Who knows, you might even make it into the history books.