Have You Broken Your New Year’s Resolution?

Don’t give up, give back!

Posted Jan 13, 2020

Every new year, many of us feel compelled to give up at least one of our vices. Popular resolutions are spending and/or eating less. We have such good intentions. But giving up is so hard! Are you like so many who have already given up your resolution to give something up?

The goal to become a better person by giving up something that isn’t good for us is hard to maintain. After all, we are drawn to transgress because of the short-term pleasure we get from eating food and spending money. So, I propose we do something different. Rather than give up, give back.

Giving back is different from giving up. When you give something up, you deprive yourself of something and the focus becomes an experience of loss, which makes giving things up so difficult. On the contrary, when you give back, you are connecting yourself with a person or cause. Your thoughts are focused on this new connection, which is really gaining something rather than losing something. The feeling you get isn’t one of loss, it feels like a benefit or reward. This emotional connection is meaningful and long-lasting.  

Midlife and beyond is our developmental sweet spot for giving back. In fact, Erik Erikson proposed the life stage theory "generativity" to describe how we are built with a desire to give back to others without any expectations in return. It isn’t random. We are leaving a legacy. This is an incredibly powerful and meaningful experience for us, and itis one reason happiness increases as we age.  

There are three ways to give back that benefit the giver: mentoring, volunteering, and philanthropy.

January is National Mentor Month, so let’s focus on mentorship.

Here are the TOP THREE benefits of mentoring:

1. Happiness

Did you know that older adults who mentor are three times happier than those who don’t mentor? A Harvard Business Review (2016) article states: “Older people who mentor and support younger people in work and in life are three times as likely to be happy as those who fail to engage in this way."

This is enduring happiness. It is not the same as the happiness we feel when we buy a new pair of shoes or receive a gift. The latter happiness is short in duration and needs to be repeated in order for us to feel happy again. How often have you gone shopping to get something new, felt great about it, were happy to have the new purchase, and then a few weeks or months later the feeling faded? This is common. If it weren’t, we’d all have tiny closets by choice. 

When we give back and do so with purpose or meaning, we have long-lasting happiness that connects us with the world and allows us to feel as though we are making a difference.

2. Aging well

Those who mentor age better. A 75-year-long Harvard study reveals that to age well, we must have meaningful human connections. The purpose of mentoring is to connect with another in a meaningful way so as to impart our wisdom, expertise, or values. A mentor is more than someone who shouts on the street corner. A mentor is engaged with the mentee, guiding and involved. This meaningful connection allows us to feel like we aren’t alone. We are important, useful, and valued.

3. Legacy

Mentors are able to choose the values, beliefs, culture, skills, and knowledge they pass on to others. We become symbolically immortal when we give back to others. As we pass on our expertise to another, a part of us lives on. We are leaving an imprint that remains after we are physically gone. Through mentorship, we have the opportunity to choose what we pass on and to whom we pass it. Whether it is through grandparenting, work, values, religion, or civic engagement, we can choose the legacy we would like to leave. We have control over the impact our lives will have on future generations.

Mentoring gives our lives purpose. The knowledge, skills, values, and culture that we accumulate are not lost when we are gone. Our lives have meaning and purpose when we are able to pass them on.

Anyone can mentor!

To sum it up, whether you are a grandparent, senior executive, lawyer, artist, or athlete, mentoring others is about the relationship. Giving back is a lifelong gift we can give to ourselves, so the next time you make a resolution, don’t give up, give back!