Mary Ellen Smoot, who served as the general Relief Society president from 2002-2007, has throughout her life given abundant service to her family, the Church, and the communities in which she has lived. She particularly emphasized service during her tenure in the Relief Society by initiating service projects as part of the BYU Women’s Conference, by changing the general board Christmas get-together from a social to a service effort, by inviting sisters to make quilts for Kosovo refugees, and by many other ways. When Mary Ellen personally delivered some of the quilts to refugees, she witnessed again how service blesses the receivers.
Sister Smoot also strongly believes that service blesses the givers. In her travels to forty countries throughout the world, she often had opportunities to talk to women individually. Her daughter Stana Kjar noted, “Everywhere my mother went she would have people talk to her about women and depression. She said, ‘I know that service lifts hearts. There’s a lot of learning that takes place in that. I know that it lifts the spirits of women when we are serving.’ “
“We know in general that helping other people helps with depression,” said Dr. Matthew Moench, assistant professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah School of Medicine. “It helps people feel connected to something larger than themselves.”
According to Dr. Rene Valles, an adult and child psychiatrist with Valley Mental Health in Salt Lake City, giving service can “stimulate the body’s production of dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.”
While clinical depression certainly needs to be treated by medical professionals, feelings of discouragement, unhappiness, and low-esteem can be diminished by thinking about and reaching out to help others. Such feelings tend to make one become self-focused. However, one’s own problems might not seem so large when the giver sees what others are facing. Service rendered also brings a sense of satisfaction to the giver. Serving promotes feelings of love between the giver and the receiver, which has a positive effect on both.
It had been a long and wearing summer for me. I was exhausted and depleted after three months of dealing 24/7 with our ten-year-old learning disabled and thus, behaviorally challenged, son as well as trying to “do summer” with our five other children. I was not a happy camper; I was less than cheerful and was finding it harder and harder to cope with our situation. My husband provided extra relief, encouragement, and listened to my litany of daily woes. I explored many avenues for relief. Still, I was in an emotional slump.
One evening I felt prompted to call a friend whom I hadn’t talked to in months. Since she lived on the East Coast and I lived in Utah, we saw each other only occasionally. We talked mostly about the forthcoming arrival of her third baby in September and that at age 40 a C-section could be a more difficult recovery. Then she said, “My mother cannot come to help.” My response surprised me: “Would you like me to come?”
That was an answer to prayer for both of us. My friend later told me she knew that phone call was inspired. Serving her family after the arrival of their darling baby girl lifted and cheered me. (It was also great practice at “playing Grandma.”) Cooking, cleaning, and caring for this family helped me to look beyond my own set of problems, renew my sense of self, and get a new perspective on how to better handle our ongoing challenge. Interestingly, the day I flew out, our stake president called me as a counselor in the stake Relief Society presidency, thus providing additional opportunities to serve others.
One of my favorite stories of how service lifts a struggling soul is that of Lael Littke and her long-time friend, Grace, both of whom were recent widows. Before Lael arrived at Grace’s apartment in another city, she thought the two of them would sob and “bemoan their fates” together. Instead when Grace opened the door, Lael was greeted by the smell of baking cookies and an assignment to help finish the cookies which were being made for people at a clinic who were allergic to wheat. Lael found comfort in her friend and the service they gave together. She said, “That visit was a turning point for me. I came home cheerful and happy after my weekend with Grace, determined to get going on building my new life.”
Service can take many forms and can be rendered in many ways. Whether done quietly by oneself or done with others in a group project, service lifts hearts, as Sister Smoot stated. In D&C 76:5, the Lord says: “I, the Lord, am merciful and gracious unto those who fear me, and delight to honor those who serve me in righteousness and in truth unto the end.” Surely one “honor” of serving Him by serving others is renewed happiness and joy.
 Janet Peterson and LaRene Gaunt, Faith, Hope, and Charity: Inspiration from the Lives of General Relief Society Presidents (American Fork, UT: Covenant Communications, 2008), 260.
 Marjorie Cortez, “Being ‘Secret Santa’ can fight holiday blues,” Deseret News, December 23, 2011, B-5
 Lael Littke, “Cookies and Comfort,” in Saints Well Seasoned: Musings on How Food Nourishes Us: Body, Heart, and Soul, ed. Linda Hoffman Kimball (Salt Lake City: Deseret Book, 1998), 181-84.