by Fay Epps MS, CHHC
Of course, you know that volunteering is a good thing, but did you also know that giving back enhances six key areas of well-being? Studies out of Vanderbilt University’s department of sociology connect volunteering with improvements in happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, a sense of control over life, physical health, and depression. Impressive!
And older Americans can derive even more health benefits. According to a report by the Corporation for National and Community service, volunteering 100 hours per year (that’s a mere 2 hours a week!) can help those age 60 and older have greater life satisfaction, functional ability, lower rates of depression,—and even live longer.
Beyond the physiological and psychological lift you get from donating yourself to a cause that’s bigger than you, volunteering presents a powerful opportunity for spiritual growth. When you help those in need, something inside of you opens up and expands, providing you with more time and energy than you ever thought you’d have to give.
Volunteering is so valuable on so many levels, but if you’re like many, fear, lack of time, and difficulty choosing a cause can hamper your best intentions to give back. Here are some simple ways to overcome those hurdles:
Fear—Does being seen for who you really are scare you? If so, embrace it! Volunteering can make you vulnerable as you will likely be working with people who are very far from you in terms of life experience. But vulnerability is the doorway to connection, so allow yourself to live authentically in these moments of service and in turn you’ll experience genuine fulfillment.
Time—A wise mentor once said that having “no time” is merely an excuse for not taking control of your life. Think about it. Do you make time for the things that really matter? Of course you do! This should be no different. Being creative can help you fit this into your busy lifestyle. If you have children, make it a family affair and you’ll have a meaningful way to spend time together. Or, plan a volunteer vacation where you can dedicate an entire week to helping rebuild a village or maintain trails. The options are endless.
How to Choose?—Follow your passion! But don’t feel like you have to do it all. Do you love dogs? The local ASPCA surely needs folks to walk their pups. Do you feel strongly that all kids deserve a fighting chance? Look up your local Big Sister chapter and get paired with a middle schooler in need of a mentor. You will need to quietly contemplate what speaks to your heart. Once you do that where to commit will become crystal clear.
Because in the end, it really does boil down to heart. Says David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation: “Volunteering makes the heart grow stronger.”
Author’s content used under license, © Sprouted Content, LLC
Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life By the Simple Act of Giving by Stephen Post, Ph.D., and Jill Neimark
Brené Brown TED Talk on The Power of Vulnerability— http://www.ted.com/talks/brene_brown_on_vulnerability.html
Lonely Planet Volunteer: A Traveller’s Guide to Making a Difference Around the World