Doing Good Feels Good!
How Volunteering Helps Us All
When we talk about mental health and wellbeing, we often talk about things like therapy, nutrition and exercise, boundary-setting, and self-care. These are all great and essential tools to have in your toolbox to live a healthy life, but they are mostly focused inward. Equally important to a full, healthy life is what we do to reach outward! Giving back through volunteer work or charitable giving can create positive ripple effects through ourselves, our families, our communities, and our world. Simply put when, we do good, everyone wins!
Research has uncovered a long list of benefits that volunteering has for our mental and even physical wellbeing. It turns out, altruism is very good for us! Here are just a few of the benefits of giving back regularly:
- Sense of purpose. For ages, human beings have struggled with questions of why we are here and what our lives are about on a deeper level. Getting involved in a cause we care about can help us answer those questions by connecting with a greater sense of purpose and meaning.
- Improved self-esteem. Volunteer work often involves meeting new people or gaining new skills and knowledge. Doing things that push us out of our routines and comfort zones can help build our confidence and self-esteem.
- Increased empathy. Volunteering allows us to gain insight into other people’s lives, including struggles and challenges that we may never have faced ourselves. When we understand others’ experiences more fully, we are better able to engage with them without judgment. Volunteering as a family can also help children develop empathy, a critical social skill for the rest of their lives.
- Reduced stress. Focusing on others, even for just an hour a week, can help you focus less on your own anxieties and worries. This translates to reduced stress, which has huge physical and mental benefits.
- Increased physical activity and improved cardiovascular health. A lot of volunteer work—walking dogs at your local animal shelter, building homes for the homeless, even helping out at your local food pantry—involves moving your body. This increased exercise can improve your heart health and help you maintain a healthy weight.
- Improved relationships and sense of connection. Getting involved in your community can help you make new friends and enhance your sense of connection to something greater than yourself.
- Enhanced transferable skills. Volunteer work gives us the opportunity to develop new skills, some of which may help us in our own careers. This benefit is especially important for teenagers and young adults.
- Higher academic achievement. Studies have shown that children and teens who volunteer tend to report enjoying school more. They are also more engaged in their learning and achieve better grades.
- Lower mortality rates. Research has found that those who volunteer regularly have lower rates of hypertension and may even live longer. The reasons behind this finding could include the increased exercise, reduced stress, and improved social connections that come from volunteering.
Clearly, the benefits of volunteering to volunteers themselves are immense. But arguably the more important factor in volunteering is what it gives to others. By volunteering regularly, we are contributing to our world in several important ways.
- Improving and strengthening our communities. While individual expression and rights are important, at the end of the day, human beings are communal creatures. We all need others, in one way or another, to thrive and even to survive. Volunteer work can be an important channel for community-building. It allows us to get to know our neighbors and their needs, come together to solve problems and discuss challenges, enhance understanding and cooperation, reduce inequities and discrimination, and enhance opportunities for everyone. By investing our time, money, and/or skills in our communities through volunteering and charitable giving, we are strengthening those communities. And stronger communities lift everyone up, together.
- Filling resource gaps. Non-profit organizations and other institutions designed to help needy and marginalized populations or to support important societal causes often have limited resources. This can mean both limited money and limited manpower. Volunteers play a critical role by helping to fill those gaps so these organizations can achieve their missions.
- Providing tangible benefits to those in need. In addition to these big-picture benefits, volunteering does very important things to improve people’s day-to-day lives:
- Feeding the hungry
- Supporting families with childcare and eldercare
- Supporting and empowering youth through mentoring and afterschool activities
- Building homes for the homeless
- Providing advocacy for those struggling with mental or physical illness
- Protecting the environment and beautifying the community
- Rescuing and protecting animals
- Enhancing access to art, music, and literacy
- Raising money for important community efforts, like playgrounds or farmers markets
- Helping people with disabilities or without reliable transportation access important services, like grocery shopping, medical care, and voting
How to Get Started
If all these benefits have inspired you, the good news is there are lots of ways to get involved! The bad news is that sometimes all those options can be overwhelming. If you’re wondering where to start, think about what you believe strongly in and what kinds of activities you truly enjoy. When volunteer work is something that you are deeply engaged in, you’re more likely to make it a long-term habit. If you’re worried about the time commitment, start with volunteering for community events once or twice a year. You can also research what needs your neighborhood and community are currently facing and how you can get involved to help fill them.
The holiday season is a great time to start some new giving habits that you and your family can carry with you the rest of the year!
WORKPLACE SOLUTIONS is a group of dedicated professionals who provide assistance and resources to individuals and families to create a satisfying and meaningful life. We’re counselors, attorneys, financial professionals, and experienced specialists in a wide variety of fields. Because life’s challenges and opportunities show up in a range of different areas, we provide assistance in a number of different ways.