There are plenty of altruistic reasons to volunteer, but it's not just your community that wins when you donate your time to others. Studies suggest that volunteer work can provide a multitude of short and long-term mental health benefits for the participant.
If you take a moment to think about the last kind thing you did for another person, it should come as no surprise to hear that volunteering is perhaps just as good for your mental health as it is good for the cause you are serving, here's a few reasons why:
- The "Helper's High" - Neuroscientists have found that generous behaviors activate the rewards part of your brain, releasing feel-good neurotransmitters that will leave you with a sense of "elation, exhilaration and increased energy, then a period of calm and serenity." This type of high can last for several weeks, and even just thinking about a previous good deed can make those good feelings return.1
- Purpose and Meaning - People who volunteer report having a greater sense of life purpose and satisfaction, increased self-confidence, and a greater sense of identity. Helping others helps you see how you fit in the bigger picture of the world around you and that you matter!2
- More Than Just A Feeling - The positive emotional state that comes from volunteering is accompanied by positive changes in the body's immune function, lower levels of stress hormones, and even increased longevity.1
- Enjoyable Aging - Volunteering may reduce the onset of cognitive decline and is related to lower rates of depression and loneliness.2
Now that you're undoubtedly convinced that you want to find a volunteer opportunity of your own, consider these questions -
- Do I want something that aligns with my professional skillset or something that challenges me in new ways?
- Would I prefer to volunteer in person or remotely?
- Can I commit to a recurring, long-term opportunity or am I better suited for one-time engagements as my schedule allows?
However you answer these questions remember there are so many different ways to volunteer - whether it's the traditional "show up and help out", e-volunteering where you might connect with the elderly or tutor a student, or even 'voluntourism' where you can see a different part of the world, meet new people, and make a positive difference - there is something out there for everyone.
“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
1. ScienceDirect.com, November 2018
2. WebMD.com, 2020