I am collecting stories of satisfying acts of service for VOLUME TWO of THE SOCIAL CAUSE DIET and all are welcome to submit. Please visit http://www.socialcausediet.com for more information. The introduction for VOLUME ONE follows.
Introduction to The Social Cause Diet
Volunteering and health appear to be tied together. Evidence suggests that a regimen of helping others may be as important to our physical well-being as regular exercise and proper nutrition. Over the past two decades, a growing body of research has shown that a pattern of giving may actually increase one’s life span and that those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability and lower rates of depression than those who do not volunteer.*
The sacrificial giving of one’s time and talents is no longer just reserved for so-called saints. We now know that it is an important part of maintaining optimal health for us all. Medically speaking, an infection-fighting antibody apparently kicks in when a person is engaged in serving others. But there’s more to it than that. There are mysterious, spiritual blessings that can’t be seen or measured but that surely enhance our well-being and quality of life. Thus, this book proposes that we are all candidates for the Social Cause Diet. This diet is not exactly easy, but it is unabashedly rich and satisfying. Moreover, it is the healthiest diet around, with benefits for both you and society at large.
I have volunteered for one organization or another since my early teens, so I have many wonderful stories of service under my belt. These are stories of connecting with small children to teens to aging adults while learning, laughing, loving, and feeding my soul along the way.
Unfortunately, I have even more experience with another kind of diet—although these stories aren’t as pleasant. At age seven, I began to obsess about what I should eat and not eat. I remember that fateful day when I sat on the curb next to the tiniest girl in second grade and compared, of all things, our knee bones. Her knees were half the size of mine, so I concluded I was fat. She probably grew up with osteoporosis. And I grew up with an intense eating disorder.
For years I avoided food like it was the enemy, but with every denial of a decent meal, I only craved it more. After a full day of magnificent self-control, I would break down and eat whatever I could find. On top of that, I would succumb to overeating when I didn’t know where else to go with my emotional needs or anxieties, all the while repeating to myself that tiresome mantra that I would do better the next day.
Today, I am thrilled to be free from all that drama. A few of my reflections in Part One of The Social Cause Diet disclose the turning points in my healing, one being the epiphany that while there was a big world out there, mine was getting smaller and shallower as I focused more and more of my energies on my diet. In other words, I realized I was becoming increasingly self-absorbed and no longer wanted to continue on that path.
Perhaps the weight issues of our country aren’t due so much to eating as they are to a poor focus. Rather than directing our attention to grander pursuits, we simply buy another diet book. More than 430 diet books were published in the United States last year, yet obesity is at an all-time high and eating disorders are on the rise. Typically, diet books have one major flaw: they make the dieter the focal point, endorsing the ideology that “it’s all about me.” But true well-being—philosophers, theologians and sociologists all agree—is achieved when we feel connected to something beyond ourselves. I don’t think we need another new program for losing weight, but we do need a plan for losing a little of ourselves. We could use some guidance for getting the attention off of our obsessions and our appetites and onto things that are beyond our personal existence.
Part Two of this book consists of firsthand accounts by people who, knowingly or unknowingly, are on the Social Cause Diet. They have incorporated acts of service into their lifestyle and have discovered that it really is more blessed to give than to receive. Some volunteers, but not all, find serving to be an extension of their faith. Their stories, as well as some of my writings, reflect that. Some of the stories have been included not because of their great plot, but because of the beautiful attitude of the contributor. Regardless, the overriding message is that volunteering brings life-enhancing rewards that far exceed the efforts we put into it.
There are limitless varieties of the Social Cause Diet. It is easier than ever to find one that works for you. The number of nonprofit organizations is expanding, fueled in part by baby boomers—now older and wealthier—who are turning to philanthropic ventures. There are well-known organizations such as the Red Cross, but there are also lesser-known ones that tackle an incredible array of needs. From cleaning up after an oil spill, to caring for orphans in Liberia, to volunteering at a museum—there are countless opportunities.
This book provides no pecking order to the available causes to serve, because there shouldn’t be any. Treating an infant with AIDS may, on the surface, seem more important than helping out at the local library, but who’s to say? The case can be made that the library volunteer plays a critical role in helping develop the love of learning in a young person who may, one day, find a cure for AIDS. Besides, we are all gifted in different ways. We each have our own set of talents and interests, and the loveliest blessings will come when we discover where we are best suited.
The range of services represented in Part Two will help you find causes that appeal to you or organizations that support the causes you already know are important to you. In addition, Part Three offers a simple personality test that will indicate where you will be most comfortable and productive as a participant.
I wish you the best as you try the Social Cause Diet. There is no reason to be skeptical of it. It has been tried and tested. It is not a passing fad. In all honesty, it will cost you something—your time, energy and maybe money. It may be difficult and uncomfortable. Yet the benefits are well worth it. The following stories testify to that fact. And unlike those diets that leave you hungry, this one will fill you up.
Causes Gail Johnston Supports
The Stephens Ministry The Siena Maternity Home Young Life International