Volunteer for Better Health
Remember how good it feels when you do something good for someone, particularly someone you don’t know, just because you wanted to help? Of course the obvious major benefit of volunteering is to those who are helped. That’s generally the intent—to help others. And the community as a whole benefits from volunteers helping others. But that warmth you feel inside when you volunteer and help is one of the unexpected benefits—to those who do the volunteering.
Since the benefits to the community are evident and well-known, this article will concentrate on the benefits to the volunteer, and some of them are a bit surprising. One apparent benefit to working for the betterment of your community is that you become more a part of it. As you do the volunteer work, you can see the difference you are making in the lives of those around you. That sense of making a difference can be a boost to your self-esteem and self-confidence. You feel a sense of achievement; you feel that your efforts are of value.
Did you know that volunteering can actually improve your health? A survey by United Healthcare/VolunteerMatch Do Good. Live Well. provides some compelling evidence of this. They found that 68% of those who had volunteered in the past year reported that volunteering makes them feel better physically. Twenty-nine percent of volunteers with a chronic condition reported that volunteering helps them manage their chronic illness better. Almost three-quarters of the respondents said that volunteering lowers their stress levels, and about 90% said that volunteering improves their sense of well-being and enriches their sense of purpose in life. Volunteering can also improve your mental health. Besides the sense of satisfaction you get from helping others, being a volunteer has been proven to fight depression—typically volunteers work in groups, and the interaction helps prevent isolation, which is a key risk factor in depression. Also, shifting your focus from your own problems to those of others combats depression. Volunteering is good for your health at any age, but it is especially beneficial in older adults, who benefit by having a lower mortality rate than elder non-volunteers.
When you volunteer, you inevitably meet new people, among them potential new networking contacts. Potential business contacts and employers are interested in your whole range of activities, not just those which pertain only to career. Volunteering is a resumé enhancer—73% of employers would recruit a candidate with volunteering experience over one without. When employers and employees volunteer together, the relationship between them is strengthened. More than 75% of volunteers who participate in service through their jobs have a more positive opinion of their employer because of the employer’s involvement in community activities. And 94% of employers believe that volunteering can add to their employees’ skills. Volunteering also provides the opportunity to practice and develop social skills; it’s easier to interact with others with whom you share a common focus.
When you volunteer, you never know when you might discover a new interest or learn a new skill. Since the choice to volunteer is yours, you can decide what you want to volunteer for. If it involves something you always wanted to learn or do, you have the perfect opportunity to develop that interest as you help others. And that newly-developed skill or interest might provide you with a new hobby or might enhance your productivity at work or your marketability in a job search.
Volunteering is a great way to teach children values. Your children watch everything you do. By watching you give back to the community, they receive a valuable lesson in how to become a good citizen—and a better person. By setting a positive example, you pass that idea on to them. Studies show that children whose parents are volunteers are 80%–90% more likely to be volunteers as adults than children of non-volunteer parents. By volunteering as a family, the parents can show their children first-hand the value of volunteering for the community and for the person. In addition, students who volunteer tend to make higher grades in school and are less likely to get into trouble or drop out of school.
You’ve heard of “payback,” right? In many instances it refers to the “an eye for an eye” mentality, but in the world of volunteers, it means something entirely different. Many people who volunteer do so out of a sense of gratitude for help they may have received in the past. It’s a way of showing appreciation for the work of volunteers who had a positive impact on their lives. Those who volunteer for this reason are often very passionate about the volunteer work they do; many see an earlier version of themselves in the people they help, and they work to give them the same help they (the volunteer) received in an earlier time and to show gratitude to the organizations that were there to be of assistance.
Whatever your reason for volunteering, don’t hesitate. Find an activity and/or an organization in your community that can benefit from your expertise, your interests, and your energy. When you volunteer, everyone benefits.