We’ve all got busy lives; kids, school, work, family, and friends all take up many of our daylight hours, but making time to volunteer and support others in need can be an incredibly rewarding way to spend our free time. It goes without saying that when you volunteer, you are supporting those in need in your community, but you can also reap significant rewards both personally and professionally when you decide to give of your time and energy. It’s a win-win proposition.
Here are five ways that volunteering can improve your outlook on the world.Helping Others Can Make You Physically Healthier.
If you’ve ever helped a stranger with their groceries or helped a friend move, you probably already know the good it does for your mental health. Helping others when they need it can be incredibly rewarding, and in fact, research has shown that helping others can do everything from staving off depression to improving your physical health.
A 2013 study published in the Journal of Psychology and Aging shows that adults over age 50 who volunteer on a regular basis are less likely to develop high blood pressure, which is an indicator of heart disease; stroke; and premature death. Additionally, most volunteering requires a relatively high level of activity, whether you are helping build homes through Habitat for Humanity or working with animals at your local shelter. The World Health Organization recommends at least 150 minutes per week of activity for adults, and volunteering each week can help make you more active.
When you are physically healthier and getting in your daily dose of activity, your body produces natural endorphins that elevate your mood and improve your outlook on the world. Additionally, because you have an improved fitness level and improved outlook on life, you are more likely to stay healthy. A 2016 study out of Harvard shows that older people who volunteer are more likely to get regular checkups and stay healthier longer.Volunteering Is Great for Your Mental Health.
In addition to the physical boost from helping others, you can get great mental health benefits as a result of volunteering. The mental and emotional ramifications of volunteering have been very carefully studied, and results show that volunteering can really change and improve your outlook on life.
For example, you create human bonds when you volunteer, something that has been proven over and over to help people live longer, more fulfilling lives. It also helps stave off depression, according to a study from 2003. In addition to helping you battle depression, volunteering can help you reduce anxiety as well, since anxiety and depression typically go hand in hand.
You don’t have to work with people, either, if you don’t want to. If you choose to work with animals in your volunteer work, that can help reduce anxiety, too. Contact with animals (petting, walking, playing) has been proven to reduce anxiety, depression, and stress across the board.
Additionally, volunteering can help you build a diverse peer group. Volunteers come from all walks of life and backgrounds. Often volunteers befriend other volunteers since they are doing the same kind of work, and in many cases, volunteers befriend those they help as well. Human connection is vital to our happiness, and volunteering puts you in a position to build those connections one helpful task at a time.You Can Learn New Skills.
If you’ve chosen to volunteer with a group that does something outside your normal daily routine—say helping build homes or working closely with seniors—you open yourself up to the potential of learning new skills.
Some volunteer programs require training to help get you up to speed on all the things you need to know in order to do the most good. Everyone from the ASPCA to the Red Cross offers training for their volunteers, and many times the skills you learn at a volunteer gig can be used in other capacities, too.
Volunteer organizations are often run very efficiently because they have extremely limited resources to do the most good. In general, well-run volunteer organizations have many tools they use to manage resources efficiently and learning about how they do what they do can be a huge boon to you both personally and professionally. If you’re an executive at a company and you volunteer your time and go through training, you could learn valuable techniques to apply to your office or home life.
You can learn new physical skills, too. Many volunteer organizations look for people with specialized skills—for example, in animal behavior training or homebuilding—and those volunteers then pass their knowledge on to other volunteers as they work side by side to do good in the world.
By exposing yourself to new groups and people with different skills from yours, you can gain new knowledge that many times, you can turn around and apply to other tasks you have in your life. Volunteering benefits not only those you are helping, but also yourself.You Can Make Great Professional Connections.
Many organizations look for volunteer experience on a résumé because it shows that you have the wherewithal to seek out and support a cause you believe in. It shows conviction, dedication, and compassion, and those can make you an incredibly appealing job applicant.
Even if you aren’t in the market for new job, volunteering can connect you to others who are equally passionate about the same cause and who might be looking to connect with great people just like you in a mentorship capacity. A big part of managing your career and professional future is continuing to grow your contacts and connections, and volunteering for things you care about provides the perfect venue for making those kinds of connections.
Volunteering also offers opportunities to grow personally as well as professionally. Volunteering is not necessarily easy and requires dedication, hard work, and in many cases, patience. Getting out of your comfort zone to meet new and different people, learn new skills, and work directly with people or animals who need help can be an incredibly rewarding growth experience that you will take with you long after you’ve finished your volunteer work.Build Your Resilience and Gratitude Muscles.
It is no secret that volunteering can be challenging. You are faced with helping people or animals that likely have less than you do, and that can sometimes cause emotional discomfort. By helping people, donating your time and resources to those who need it most, even when it is emotionally challenging, you build both your resilience and gratitude muscles.
Showing up to help those who need it most can create a perspective on your own life that demonstrates just how good things in your life are and how you can help make others’ lives better. Volunteering offers the perfect opportunity to practice gratitude for what you have in your life and for the opportunity to give back and improve someone else’s experience.
When you volunteer, you exercise your resilience muscle, too. Oftentimes, when we volunteer, we are exposed to adverse experiences we may not be familiar with. By challenging yourself to meet those adverse experiences with compassion and patience as you volunteer, you work on building your own compassion and resilience, which can prove to be incredibly rewarding.Where to Volunteer
It’s no secret that finding time to volunteer during our busy lives is difficult, but the benefits can be tremendous so it’s well worth dedicating the time and energy to. It can improve your outlook on life by opening your eyes to diverse experiences, helping you gain new skills, helping you make new connections, and supporting your mental and physical well-being.
There are thousands of places to volunteer and donate your time. The best way to find the right fit for your volunteering needs is to check out sites like those listed below. Whether you want to donate your time in your local area or travel across the world, there are plenty of online resources to learn more about how best to volunteer. If you can’t volunteer, consider making regular donations to your favorite charity and supporting them in other ways. Below you’ll find a few of the best places to do volunteer work in your area and all over the world.
- Volunteer Match: Find local volunteer opportunities in your area that match your interests and expertise.
- The Corporation for National and Community Service: This federal agency invests in nonprofit local community groups—especially those organizations that mentor and tutor at-risk youth, rebuild communities struck by natural disasters, help seniors live independently, and support veterans and military families.
- ASPCA: Help animals in need.
- VA Volunteer Work: Support our veterans by volunteering. I am a huge proponent of veterans and seek to support them in any way I can. You can read more about why I think that veterans are crucial to today’s business environment here.
These are just a few of the options available to find volunteer work. It’s best to do your own legwork and find the right volunteering agency for you, your schedule, and how you want to dedicate your time. No matter what you choose to do, the rewards will be tremendous and well worth your while.