If you have ever volunteered, says longtime nonprofit professional Joanne Fritz, you may have noticed that you felt fantastic afterward. Maybe you saw a little boost in your mood, or that you felt like part of a team. You felt like you made a difference.
When we volunteer, we may see real changes as a result of our efforts. We may even witness the effects that our efforts have on others in our community. When we volunteer, we know that we are helping others by giving our time and resources.
People volunteer for many reasons. It may be to support a cause they are passionate about or to engage in their community. We often volunteer to help groups or individuals who need it the most without expecting any reward.
Most of us want to help those less fortunate than ourselves. We do not volunteer, for the most part, because it benefits us. We volunteer because it makes a difference.
But, there are even more benefits to volunteering. We notice a subtle shift in ourselves when we volunteer. We feel more connected to others, and we become less absorbed in the normal stresses of daily life. We share our experiences with others and want to help more.
Sure, we know that volunteering makes us feel good. Yet, did you know that, when you volunteer, you are improving your life and maybe even your health?
The benefits of volunteering are countless. But there definitely are social, emotional, physical, and professional perks.
Here are fifteen proven benefits of volunteering. Maybe one of them will convince you to get off the couch and out the door to engage with your community.
Community, Loneliness, and Bonding
Many journals and reports have studied the benefits to volunteering in recent years. They find that volunteering is one of the best things you can do for yourself and the world.
Why? Because we want to make an impact on others. But we are also caring for ourselves and our immediate social networks.
1. Builds Community
According to the Corporation for National & Community Service, you strengthen your community and your social network when you volunteer. You make connections with the people you are helping, and you cultivate friendships with other volunteers.
2. Ends Loneliness
The Campaign to End Loneliness says that close to 45 percent of people in the US and the UK admit to feeling lonely. On top of that, one in ten adults reports that they have no close friends. Loneliness and social isolation are two of the most serious epidemics in the world today. The simplest way to reverse this? Volunteer!
3. Increases Socializing
Socially, the benefits to volunteering show up quickly and have long-term effects. Social interaction improves mental and physical health, according to Psychology Today. The benefits of consistent socializing include better brain function and lower risk for depression and anxiety. You also improve your immune system.
4. Builds Bonds, Creates Friends
Volunteering creates stronger bonds between friends, family, and coworkers. People build closer relationships, better connections, and more powerful attachments to people when they work together.
If you feel the need for deeper connections with other people, try volunteering. You might just live longer and be happier.
Mental Health and Happiness in Volunteers
We all know that helping others makes us happier. We love making someone else’s life a little bit easier. However, did you know that those feelings of happiness can prevent and relieve some of our most painful struggles? Studies show that improved mental health is just another of the many benefits of volunteering.
5. Develops Emotional Stability
Depression, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, low self-esteem, and even Obsessive Compulsive Disorder have all been helped by volunteering. When people with OCD, PTSD, or anger management issues volunteer, they feel more connected to others. They have an increased sense of purpose. Connection and meaning translate to decreased symptoms and improved social function.
6. Improves Self-Esteem
When teens or young adults volunteer, they develop self-esteem, confidence, and feelings of self-worth. Imagine the benefits to volunteering today, where both girls and boys struggle with self-esteem issues. Consider the advantages to volunteering for teens and young adults with eating disorders, social anxiety, and depression. Volunteering could be life-changing (and life-saving).
7. Helps Those Most Affected By Mental Illness
Volunteering can also help prisoners, who make up the largest demographic of mental illness in North America. It is estimated that more than 50 percent of inmates in the U.S. have some form of mental illness. Programs like Paws for Life and Dawgs in Prison allow incarcerated individuals train shelter dogs. It is evident to prison officials that inmates become calmer when they work with the dogs. They seem more committed to their rehabilitation too.
Similar programs help war veterans recover from PTSD when they volunteer at animal shelters. Dogs are man’s best friend, but helping those in need proves to be beneficial for both humans and canines.
On a more basic level, volunteering reduces stress and improves well-being. Volunteering gives people the tools they need to be happier, healthier, and well-rounded individuals. It also keeps us young.
Overall Health Improvements
When you have volunteered in the past, were you doing something physically or mentally demanding? Most volunteer work is physical, whether carrying boxes, standing for extended periods of time, or solving problems for an organization. Research continues to find that the benefits of volunteering include improved health.
8. Promotes Longevity
While everyone benefits from a little boost in physical health, long-term volunteers have longer lives, less disease, and better overall health. One report says that people who volunteer over 100 hours a year are some of the healthiest people in the U.S.
9. Reduces Risk of Alzheimer’s
Alzheimer’s disease has become a frightening possibility for millions of individuals in the U.S. and globally. However, some research has shown that people who volunteer may be at lower risk of dementia from 65 years on.
Studies from the Journal of Gerontology indicate that social service improves elasticity in the brain. As volunteers age, they may be able to maintain the connections in their brains that often break down in Alzheimer’s patients. Any social interaction can help delay or prevent Alzheimer’s, and volunteering can be a wonderful way to do that.
10. Leads to Graceful Aging
Older volunteers benefit the most from getting out of the house, engaging with others, and moving physically. Purpose and collaboration result in mental health improvements and a better outlook on life.
Studies indicate that senior volunteers experience the most physical benefit from their service, possibly because being active and engaged leads to more happiness.
Older people who volunteer often feel younger and chronically ill people may have fewer symptoms and pain. Some research has even found that volunteers may have less heart disease.
11. Burns That Stubborn Belly Fat
With more people in traditional desk jobs, we live a more sedentary lifestyle than ever before. The risks associated with less daily movement include back pain, disease, obesity, and more stress and mental illness. When we volunteer, even if it is not a physically demanding project, we still get up and get moving.
Walking around a shelter or food bank, playing with kids at the local YMCA, or visiting with elderly patients at a neighborhood nursing home all require that you do more than sitting at a desk or on a couch. You could even choose to volunteer for causes or programs that make you more active, such as with youth sports programs or national parks.
Volunteers live longer and are more likely to take care of themselves in general, including getting vaccinations and keeping their weight under control. Volunteering at something that requires physical energy may be more motivating than just walking around the block.
Volunteering saves lives, both the lives of the people you help and yours. When you invest the time and energy to volunteer, you are investing in yourself just as much as in the causes you support.
Future Goals and Career Opportunities
For many of us, our first forays into volunteering come through religious or educational “service.” From school-aged children to retiring adults, volunteering for education or professional gain is very common.
12. Improves School and College Experience
For school-aged kids, volunteering builds social skills and develops awareness. High school students volunteer to boost their college applications, and college students volunteer to improve their job search post-graduation.
Such programs benefit everyone. If you can get into a great college or accept a fantastic job offer as a result of your community service, why not? The benefits of volunteering do not have to be limited to others.
13. Provides Better Job Prospects
Many researchers have noticed that Millennials are some of the most civic-minded and socially-aware employees. They choose jobs that reflect their values and then continue to donate their money, time and skills. Seventy percent of Millennials share their skills with charitable causes, but their volunteer hours also make them competitive in the job market.
Other generations, too, are finding that civic-mindedness has become an asset in the workplace. Including related and non-related volunteer work on a résumé can often showcase your skills, as well as reveal an openness to teamwork and a talent for innovation. Employers overwhelmingly look favorably on job applicants who have volunteered.
14. Develops Corporate Communities
One of the biggest trends in the volunteer world today is corporate philanthropy. More big-name companies than ever support local and national programs financially. They create employee volunteer programs to support their philanthropic efforts and to retain employees. Companies encourage employees to commit a certain number of hours every year to service programs.
These corporate volunteer programs give employees a chance to volunteer during work hours. Doing so increases the likelihood that people will volunteer, even during their personal time. Companies that offer employee volunteer programs may attract more committed employees, as well.
15. Volunteering Adds Fun to Your Years
Volunteering and freely giving your time, energy, and resources to people and causes around the world can create change on a global scale. It is amazing to think that one person’s efforts can change the life of someone else somewhere in the world. However, the best part, and often overlooked is that volunteering is just plain fun.
If you are ready to make friends, improve your mental and physical health, and maybe develop new skills along the way, start volunteering. You can change your life and the lives of others when you do. Don’t overlook the benefits of volunteering. Embrace them!
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