Today is International Volunteer Day. It probably wouldn’t take much to convince you that volunteering is a good thing; it helps people in need, benefits worthwhile causes, and improves communities. But the benefits to volunteering don’t stop there.
Volunteering and helping others in general can help reduce stress, combat depression, improve overall happiness, increase fulfillment, and provide a larger sense of purpose. By measuring brain activity and hormones, researchers have discovered that helping others activates the areas of our brain that creates feelings of pleasure. Our bra
ins are naturally wired to give to others, and the more we give, the happier we feel. A special health report published by Harvard Health Publications found that when compared to people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% for those that volunteered once a month, 12% for people who volunteer every 2-4 weeks, and 16% for those who volunteer weekly.
Not only do we derive pleasure from helping others, it provides a sense of accomplishment that boosts our pride in ourselves, leads to increased self-confidence, and strengthens our identity. Volunteering also makes us feel a connection to others, which has a huge impact on fighting depression. Even though we are seemingly more connected today through technology than ever before, people tend to feel more isolated than ever, both socially and professionally. Volunteering presents a way to cope with that feeling of isolation in an increasingly tech-savvy and impersonal world. It provides real human connections and access to support systems that combat feeling to fill the technological void.
Volunteering also helps you stay physically healthy. Stress has a profoundly negative physical as well as mental effect on our bodies, and helping others reduces the stress hormone cortisol in our bodies, leading to improved health. According to the CDC, states with higher volunteer rates are more likely to have lower mortality rates and less incidence of heart disease. Older volunteers tend to walk more and find it easier to manage everyday tasks, and volunteering can help seniors cope with age-related hardships, such as retiring or losing a spouse. Even when controlling for factors such as age, health, and gender, research has found that when individuals volunteer, they are more likely to live longer.
Given all of these benefits, recognize that today is International Volunteer Day and consider getting involved in the community. If you have no experience volunteering, that’s okay! Make a commitment to try something new. Even small amounts of your time every month could make a huge difference to a local nonprofit or in the lives of people near you. Explore some of the areas where you feel something missing in your life, or causes that you’re particularly passionate about. If you work indoors but love being outside, try volunteering outdoors. If you love animals, look into helping out a shelter. Whatever it is, use today to kick-start helping others and in return enjoy finding a happier, healthier you.
By Janet Tompkins
Janet Tompkins is a school-based counselor with The Lincoln center for Family and Youth. Janet has been with The Lincoln Center for fourteen years and has her masters in Counseling, is a Certified Safety Professional, a Certified School Counselor, and a Certified Clinical Trauma Professional.