5 things I learned from volunteering with seniors

It was Sunday around noon. I was still wearing pajamas in my apartment in Los Angeles, lying on my bed, under the blankets. While giving Kiki (my dog) a belly rub with one hand, and eating ice cream (Häagen-Dazs – dulce de leche) with the other, I was thinking about all the things that were missing in my life. You know, one of those days when you start feeling miserable, and you make a detailed re-count of all the things going wrong in your life just to keep feeling self-pity.

Suddenly, a ray of light filled my consciousness, and I realized how pathetic my situation was. Instead of appreciating all the wonderful things in my life, I was focusing on what I didn’t have, so I could enjoy my suffering.

At that moment, I remembered a story I had read about a suicidal patient calling his therapist in a moment of crisis. The therapist told the patient to look for someone who could use his (the patient’s) help in any way, and by doing so, by focusing on how he could be of service, the patient’s perspective changed completely, and that saved his life.

Long before that day, I had been thinking about volunteering, but I had never really committed. At that moment, I started looking for different options and signed up for several programs. Today I’m going to tell you about my work with seniors.

I’ve had the privilege of working as a volunteer in two organizations dedicated to improving the lives of older adults.

The first experience was in Los Angeles, California, in a nursing home for seniors. Every other week a group of volunteers lends out their time, attention, and companionship to the residents. The volunteers organize activities, like Bingo, and help whoever needs it (and accepts it, hehe!). They also help women paint their nails, do their hair, or simply chat and interact with the seniors.

The second experience I had was in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, with a non-profit organization dedicated to helping and educating low-income seniors. They host a free weekly banquet where they invite speakers to give health and nutrition talks.

Both experiences have enriched my life, and these are the 5 things I learned:

  1. Having good posture will contribute to your happiness

What does posture have to do with happiness? I’ll tell you right away.

While observing people’s interactions, I noticed some patterns. For example, hunchbacked people generally seem to be sadder. Afterward, I did some research on this topic, and these are my conclusions:

Aside from the obvious physical pain caused by bad posture, it’s been proven that an upright one contributes enormously to happiness. Our body language sends signals to the brain that influence our mood. So, if you have the bad habit of hunching your back, over the years, it becomes irreversible, and then, even if you want, you can’t stand straight. This causes you to always be looking down, which is interpreted by the brain as sadness, lack of energy, reluctance, etc. Also, it becomes more challenging to interact with people when you have a hunched posture, and we all know that social interaction is a great component of happiness.

2. You decide when to die

I don’t mean to say that you choose the day when your heart will stop beating. What I want to say is that there are people who decide not to live, a long time before their body stops working.

I met 85-year-old people that behaved and lived as if they were 30, and 70-year-old people that seemed to be 145. It’s a matter of attitude. There are those who stop living long before their burial. Others sing and laugh until the last breath of life they have. I want to be like the latter.

3. Joy is contagious, but bitterness isolates you

I always remember Mary, an 89-year-old lady who infected everyone with her joy and her love for life. We all wanted to be around her because her sole presence made us feel good. Her favorite song is “New York, New York” by Frank Sinatra, and at the end of each gathering, she would ask someone to play it for her. Besides singing it, she had a talent for convincing the guys to dance with her.

On the other hand, I also met grumpy and negative people who were always looking for things to complain about. Nobody wanted to be around them because their negative energy was contagious. Consequently, these kinds of people isolate themselves more and more, and then they complain that nobody wants to be with them.

4. At the end of life, you decide what to remember

Having spent more than seven decades living on this planet guarantees that you’ve had a great number of pleasant experiences and also many painful ones. It guarantees that you’ve enjoyed life as well as suffered it. It guarantees that you’ve cried and laughed a million times. What is not guaranteed is the perspective you have on life. That’s for you to choose.

Talking to different people made me realize that each one decides what to remember about their life. There are those who focus more on joy than sorrow. But some others only remember tragedies. It’s not hard to guess who is happier.

5. You’re the only person with whom you’ll spend the rest of your life, so you better enjoy your own company

While you get near the end of your life, it becomes very evident that nothing in this world is eternal. Many of the friends, relatives, pets, and objects a person believes will always be in their life often end up disappearing. The only constant in our lives is ourselves.

This may sound harsh; however, it doesn’t have to be if you know how to enjoy your own company. And if you’ve shared the love that is in you, since, unlike material things, the love you give is the one you keep.

Besides, enjoying your own company and being best friends with yourself attracts people. Paradoxically, those who know how to enjoy being alone are the ones who usually have more people around them.

My conclusion is that although life isn’t always like we’d want it to be, we decide what to do with the cards we’ve been dealt.

When I get (if I get…) to be old age, I’ll ignore the behavior standards imposed by society. I’ll try to do everything I’m told that I can’t do, haha!

I’m going to have fun until the end!

That’s my plan.