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How Do You Connect with Others?

I've been going on and off your 8-week program (Dr. Weil's Optimum Health Plan) all year, always finding myself stuck on the Week 7 project about volunteerism and "giving of self." I figure if I'm going to do it at all, now is the time. How do I start?

Answer (Published 12/23/2005)

Originally published 12/29/1999

First of all, congratulations on making the 8-week program part of your whole year. You certainly should feel good about what you've done so far. I'm not surprised to hear that volunteering has become your biggest challenge. In order to achieve optimum health, it's not enough just to eat well, exercise and take supplements. Human beings are social animals, and we need to recognize and honor our connectedness. Unless we experience connection to others in a meaningful way, I believe we put ourselves at risk of developing spiritual, mental and, ultimately, physical illness.

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We all need to develop our awareness of how we are connected, especially those of us who tend to take our blessings for granted. I recommend incorporating some kind of service work into your weekly or monthly routine. Doing service work puts the needs of others ahead of your own, and that does good both for you and the people you're helping. How do you start? Make the commitment to yourself and then make the first phone call.

Donating money is one way of helping, but it's not as useful to your own well-being as going out there and giving of yourself, especially in a way that draws on your own unique talents or skills. Big opportunities in my community every year include feeding the homeless; helping people with AIDS or other terminal illnesses; and helping to clean up the environment. One of my rituals is to go through my closets every year and gather items to give to Goodwill - items I know other people will be able to use and appreciate.

If you don't feel that you want to get involved with an organization, you can always do things on your own, such as helping shut-ins, offering transportation to elderly or disabled neighbors and tutoring or reading to children. The possibilities are endless. Something I do that's purely personal is to give people in desperate situations free medical consultations. Also, you needn't give of yourself only to strangers - help out friends and family members.

It's easy to become overwhelmed by the amount of suffering in the world and all the people and causes in need of help. Recognize that you can only do so much and that sometimes helping just one person does a world of good. Prioritize: Think about your interests and pick an activity that you feel is most deserving of your time and energy. But whatever form your service work takes, once you take that first step I'm sure you'll find it will quickly become one of your more rewarding healthy habits.

Andrew Weil, M.D.

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