New Year, New Time to Think of Others

— Written By Sarah Kocher and last updated by
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A certain warm, fuzzy feeling – unrelated to the hot coffee she is about to sip – manifests in a woman whose drink was paid for by the driver in front of her. She decides to pay the kindness forward to the person next in line.

Which act makes her happier – to receive or to give? Unless asked, it is unknown. What can be known, though, is that there is a correlation between happy people and a tendency for them to be more generous; and most of the time, human instincts tell us to give to ourselves before it tells us to give to others.

“Happy people tend to volunteer more. They give more of their time to other people.” said Laurie Santos, Professor of Psychology at Yale University and podcast host of The Happiness Lab, in a January 2020 interview with Frank Blake, host of the Crazy Good Turns podcast. “We don’t know if doing nice things for others makes you happy, or if you’re happy maybe you tend to do nice things for others,” she said.

Santos teaches a class titled “Psychology and the Good Life,” and it is all about happiness.

“Students who really took time for gratitude report all these wonderful things,” Santos said. “Taking a moment to do that can give you the grounding you need and the resilience you need to kind of make it through some of the tougher stuff. So we find that students who are doing those kinds of practices seem to get happier.”

A May 2020 survey commissioned by the National 4‑H Council, and conducted by the Harris Poll, signals that teenagers are one group who could benefit from developing a habit of generosity.

The survey finds that 7 in 10 teens are struggling with their mental health in the wake of COVID-19. It polled over 1,500 youth between the ages of 13-19 nationwide.

The new year means it is a great time to turn a new leaf and form this new habit. Locally, youth ages 5-18 are invited to take part in 4-H’s 40 Hours of Service this year. They do not have to be currently involved with 4-H to participate. The program encourages them to take on the challenge of completing 40 hours of community service during January to July, 2021.

Some service opportunities are organized for the youth participating in 40 Hours of Service challenge to help get them started. This January, youth have worked on two projects in particular. They are making dog toys for Pet Partners from old T-shirts and jeans and decorating Valentine’s Day cards for senior citizens.

valentine cards

Making Valentine’s Day cards for isolated individuals or families requires few supplies and can be delivered without contact, making it a great service project to do this January and early February.

Besides warm, fuzzy feelings, there are many other benefits to being generous.

“Helping 4-H members incorporate generosity into their projects will help them learn more about the world around them, connect them with their community in a meaningful way, and may even affect their career choices,” said Sara Keinath, 4-H professional with Michigan State University Extension.

Keinath specializes in career exploration and workforce preparation.

“Learning how to be helpful to others can take many shapes, from sewing dog toys for a local animal shelter, raising money for charity and to offering help to those impacted by disaster; every level of generosity helps youth see a world larger than themselves and how they can have meaning and purpose in it,” she said. “As youth learn and practice generosity, they will also naturally increase their abilities in mastery, independence, and belonging.”

Adults can choose to volunteer with 4-H or another local organization too. Caldwell County 4-H currently has open volunteer roles for a county service coordinator, 4-H Cooking Club leader, and others. Interested adults should contact Sarah Kocher at

From left to right, Charles Beck, Jackie Nagy and Savannah Sartin judge a local 4-H contest. There are short-term and long-term roles for adults interested in volunteering and supporting youth development.

From left to right, Charles Beck, Jackie Nagy and Savannah Sartin judge a local 4-H contest. There are short-term and long-term roles for adults interested in volunteering and supporting youth development.

Who is ready to challenge themselves and live generously?

Caldwell County 4-H is a member agency of United Way, and it enthusiastically supports its partnerships. Learn more about 4-H opportunities online at


Sarah Kocher is the 4-H Youth Development Agent with N.C. Cooperative Extension in Caldwell County. The N.C. Cooperative Extension, Caldwell County Center, 120 Hospital Ave. NE #1 in Lenoir, provides access to resources of NC State University and N.C. A&T State University through educational programs and publications.