I am not a religious person. Frankly, I’m a bit jaded by the terrible things people do to one another in the name of religion.
But I do try to be a good person.
That’s a lesson I learned from my parents and grandmothers. All were devout churchgoers who never missed a Sunday, and they were good people, first and foremost.
My maternal baba’s philosophy of life was simple: “Треба на цім світі якесь добре діло цінити.”
“You need to do something good in this world.”
This baba (grandmother) had an especially hard life. She married young, as was the custom, and by the time she was 20, she had two small children, a husband who was bedridden with rheumatoid arthritis, a gumbo-dirt farm to manage on her own, and a mountain of debt. She worked hard all her life, but she always made time to do good things for other people—whether it was helping her family, or baking sweet treats for the children at the orphanage, or working for her church and her community.
My baba was always cheerful and content, in spite of her hard life. Because the other part of her philosophy was, “Треба мати smiling face”—“You need to have a smiling face”—said half in English and half in Ukrainian.
If I’m honest, I often have an easier time trying to be good than trying to be cheerful and smiling. But a new research study has found that one thing often leads to the other.
Adults over 50 who volunteered for two hours a week (100 hours a year) were found to have a reduced risk of mortality, better physical fitness and better well-being than study participants who did not volunteer. The people who volunteered were more optimistic. They had a greater sense of purpose. And they were less isolated, less lonely and less depressed.
The study’s lead investigator explains: “Humans are social creatures by nature. Perhaps this is why our minds and bodies are rewarded when we give to others.”
My baba had this figured out before there were any studies.
So put on a smile and do something good for someone today.
You’ll feel better for it.
 I never knew my grandfathers. They died before I was born, so I only know them from the stories people tell. I once wrote a university paper on the assigned topic, “Who were the people who inspired you?” Naturally, I wrote about my grandmothers. My professor’s comment was, “What about your grandfathers?” He assumed that I had taken a sexist slant. I’m still annoyed! But I’m grateful that at least I know my grandfathers’ stories.