Volunteering has hit a record high, with nearly one third of Americans offering their time to help others in 2018. One of the factors driving this mindset may well be the growing realization that volunteering not only does a lot of good in communities; it can also be hugely rewarding personally. Many of those who give their time learn that they blossom by leaving their comfort zones, connecting with people from other cultures, and finding shared ground in new destinations. Your experiences as a volunteer can help you to feel happier and healthier, with a new perspective to take into your education, work or family life.
Research has shown that being generous with your time can make you happier: showing kindness activates an area of the brain called the striatum, which is associated with rewarding experiences. Volunteering can also help to reduce stress and anxiety; in particular, those who work with animals often find the experience to be a great comfort. Scientists have even found that volunteering can improve your physical health; a study of adults aged over 50 found that those who volunteered regularly had lower blood pressure than those who didn’t. Clearly, giving your time to benefit other people can make your own life a lot brighter too.
One of the huge benefits of volunteering is the opportunities it opens up to live out your personal values and connect with others who share them. This can be beneficial for those who live alone, but it’s also particularly important for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Imagine being a small fashion brand owner: from a commercial perspective, 60% of younger consumers will be considering your company’s ethical values and authenticity. On a personal level, if you’re used to working alone or in a small team, finding causes which mirror your business and personal values will help you to not only make a difference in a field you are passionate about – for example, by mentoring upcoming design talent or championing ethical sourcing – but also enable you to spend time with other individuals who share your beliefs.
Volunteering is often credited with giving people a sense of purpose. Whether you’re young and finding it difficult to break into the world of work, or at retirement age and finding it tricky to adjust to a slower pace of life, finding a cause where you can share your time and talents is hugely energizing. Being in regular contact with other people also helps you to create a support network, which in turn can help to stave off loneliness. One study also demonstrated that strong social support can lessen the impact of stress (which can lead to depression). There are so many opportunities available, both in person and online, that there’s bound to be one that’s perfect for you; the resulting satisfaction can be a huge boost to your confidence and sense of usefulness.
Volunteering is often viewed as a positive thing to do for other people; a kind way to help other communities, and of course it is. However, it can also be hugely rewarding personally. It can help you improve your own physical and emotional health, as well as fostering connections with those who share your values. Why not look at the available opportunities now, and begin your volunteer story?