Do Good, Feel Better: How Good Deeds Can Help with Ennui and Depression

ladling soup into bowl volunteer workDepression is now among the most commonly diagnosed illnesses worldwide and poses a massive public health threat in terms of lost productivity, unhealthy social relationships, and general pain and suffering. But in the media frenzy about depression, low-level unhappiness, boredom, and frustration—occasionally referred to as ennui—are often neglected. Ennui can make you feel like you’re trapped in your own life, with little hope of excitement or gratification, and it can also feel a lot like depression. Doing good things for others, including volunteer work, financial donations, or even simply listening to a friend talk about her problems, can elevate your mood and help you feel more focused and purposeful. Here’s why doing good deeds really can work to help you feel better.

Endorphins Explained
Volunteer work that gets you moving provides you with much-needed exercise. Exercise releases endorphins that can elevate your mood long after the exercise is over. But it’s not just the exercise that helps. Social volunteer activities that encourage you to interact with and support others can help you develop a sense of camaraderie and team spirit. This may also release mood-elevating endorphins that can help pull you out of your funk.

Feeling Useful
High unemployment and even higher underemployment have caused many people to feel somewhat useless. Even for those with great jobs, we live in a service economy where most people don’t directly produce a product, and many of us don’t do work that is directly correlated with helping other people. For those with a strong social conscience, this situation can become depressing. Volunteer work reminds you that your paid work is not the sum total of your identity and provides you with an opportunity to help people you might not otherwise have a connection with. When we feel useful to others, this can result in a net gain in self-esteem.

Learning New Skills
Many of us have an unrealized dream, a skill we never mastered, or a class we’ve been dying to take. You often have a better chance of learning a new skill when you’re willing to work for free. Love animals? Try wildlife rehabilitation. Wish you’d become a social worker? Try volunteering with foster children. Dying to learn computer programming? Try teaching computer literacy to the elderly and homeless. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to explore diverse interests, have new experiences and—in some cases—gain skills that may help you in your job. This can help your life feel more purposeful and release you from the clutches of chronic frustration.

Practicing Gratitude
In a stressful, pressure-filled world, it’s easy to forget that many people go to bed hungry, afraid, or alone every night. Volunteer work can serve as a powerful reminder that your life is not nearly as bad as you think it is. Even better, you may witness people living in dire circumstances who are truly happy. Learn what you can from them about being happy in spite of bad circumstances and finding something good even during dark times.

Less Isolation
Volunteer work gets you out of the house and forces you to interact with a variety of people. This can result in new friendships and increased understanding of different perspectives. You may even realize that you’re not the only person struggling to find meaning in an increasingly hostile world, and this sense of unity can help you feel less depressed.



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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Gretchen


    June 28th, 2012 at 11:32 AM

    So this is all the more reason to give some of your time to volunteer hours or some sort of service organization, especially if you are depressed. It is amazing how much better doing a little bit of something good for someone else can make you feel 100x’s better than you ever did before. the hardest part is the finding something that you genuinely care about and making that step to find out how they may need your help. But once you start and see the difference that you are making in the lives of others and your community, you will wonder why you never gave of yourself in this way before.

  • jack


    June 28th, 2012 at 3:29 PM

    Of course I read this and it is all well and good, but how am I supposed to want to give back when for the most part I don’t even feel compelled to get up out of bed every morning?

  • Fre:D


    June 29th, 2012 at 12:56 AM

    My mom has been working for the upliftment of the weaker sections of the society for over two decades now and although she is approaching 50, she is as healthy and enthusiastic as anyone 15-20 years younger than her! She has always mentioned how satisfying it is to work for the betterment of some others without being paid,just to help those people.It was very nice reading this article and I just hope more and more people are able to involve themselves in such work and help not only those at the receiving end but also themselves,as is mentioned here!

  • eric


    June 29th, 2012 at 4:13 AM

    If You have never had the chance to spend time with others in need and give a little of your time and your gifts I think that you would be surprised at just how good this giving back to others can make you feel.

    When you give back to others who are in greater need than you are, then you are doing something good fo others for a change. For a little while this will help you to take your mind off of your own problems. And in the ebst case scenario this volunteer work could even help you to rise above your own ailments as you seek to help others get past theirs.

  • layla


    June 29th, 2012 at 8:57 AM

    I don’t know how but whenever I do anything for someone in need it just feels good deep inside. Its like magic. Spending a whole lot of money doesn’t give as much satisfaction and happiness as spending even a small amount for someone in need, someone who desperately needs food or something. Its just the way we are wired I think, charity and helping others definitely is a feel-good factor.

  • floyd


    June 29th, 2012 at 3:22 PM

    Well, therapists can’t exactly make this mandadtory for their clients, but they could extoll the virtues of volunteer work to their patients a little more and help them find ways to easily get involved and make a difference. I think that it says a lot to be going through a horrible situation of your own but to find a way to still want to help other people. And that has to make you feel good on the inside to know that the things that you are doing could be having a beneficial effect on others who might be down on their luck too. It will not always be the ultimate answer to the problem but it could be the critical piece of that puzzle that has been missing in your own life and recovery and treatment.

  • Bradley


    July 1st, 2012 at 9:16 AM

    When you ignore the small things, the ennui, they often pile up one on top of the other and lead to something that feels so big! Pay attention to yourself, take care of yourself, and contrary to popular beliefs, sometimes its fine and maybe even necessary to sweat the small stuff a little bit.

  • Kelli W.

    Kelli W.

    July 2nd, 2012 at 11:03 AM

    I think that you will find with a lot of people that if they just have something to do and some small way to contribute then they automatically feel better about themselves. They don’t have to do much, but give them a role to play and they are ready to be there so that they can have something meaningful in their lives that they can feel good about again.

  • david


    July 2nd, 2012 at 12:40 PM

    doing good just to feel happy or to feel good does not help…it requires you to actually feel the joy of going and that sense of I want to help so and so is what does the trick if you ask me.

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