Are you considering volunteering? It’s an important way to
help individuals and communities in need. And, as Calvin Holbrook writes, the
benefits of this altruistic act are proven by science.
With most of us leading super busy lives, the idea of volunteering – giving your time and energy to a cause without financial reward – may seem an impossible task. I mean, how can we fit anything else into our already jam-packed schedules? However, volunteering is important for many reasons and doesn’t have to take up too much time. And, in fact, the benefits of volunteering are vast for the volunteer – not just the community, individual, or organization receiving their assistance.
Indeed, it’s these benefits that could partly explain the rise in the popularity of volunteering over the past few years. During 2012-13, 29 percent of adults in England, UK, said they had formally volunteered at least once a month. The figure in the United States is not far off, at around 25 percent (with slightly more women volunteering than men).
Promisingly, an increasing number of these people are young adults. In the UK, figures show that 2.9 million people in the 16 to 25-year-old age group volunteered during 2015, compared to 1.8 million in 2010: that’s a whopping 50 percent increase.
So, why the interest in volunteering? The Greek philosopher Aristotle once said that the essence of life is “to serve others and do good,” and it seems an increasing number of us are starting to wake up and see why volunteering is important. People are starting to understand how serving and helping each other and different communities benefit not just others but ourselves, too.
Why is volunteering important?
Volunteering is important as it offers essential help to worthwhile causes, people in need, and the wider community. Indeed, many organizations and charities rely on the generosity of volunteers as often they’re only part-funded through government or local councils, and cannot afford to pay salaries for all their staff. In fact, many companies depend almost solely upon teams of volunteers to help them thrive and do their work.
So, what are the benefits of volunteering?
Of course, the benefits of volunteering for those receiving
help are clear. Whether it’s providing kids in a Third World country with free
English classes or litter picking from your local beach, the benefits to the
receiver and the wider community are usually part of the reason why you decide
to volunteer in the first place.
But did you realize just how important volunteering could be for the person doing it? In fact, volunteering is beneficial to the doer for a whole host of reasons, including stress reduction, combating depression, and providing a sense of purpose.
“Volunteering is important as it offers essential help to worthwhile causes, people in need, and the wider community.”
And while studies do show that the more you volunteer, the more benefits you’ll experience, volunteering doesn’t have to involve a long-term commitment. Even giving in simple ways can help those in need and improve your overall health and happiness. So, let’s take a closer look at just why volunteering is important with seven key benefits of this altruistic act.
1. Volunteering connects you with others
If you’re feeling lonely, isolated, or simply want to widen
your social circle, volunteering in your local community is an important – and
often fun – way to meet new people. In fact, one of the best ways to make new
friends and strengthen existing relationships is to commit to a shared activity
together, and volunteering lets you do just that.
If you’ve recently moved to a new city or country,
volunteering is an important and easy way to meet new people and it also
strengthens your ties to that local community and broadens your support
network. Furthermore, it connects you to people who have common interests and passions
and who could go on to become great friends.
In fact, volunteering is an important and interesting way to meet people who you might not normally connect with: people from different age groups, ethnicities, or social groups. Because volunteering is open to everyone, it allows you to meet a wide variety of people from all sorts of walks of life, something that can only open your eyes further.
2. Volunteering builds self-confidence and self-esteem
Doing good for others and the community helps to create a
natural sense of accomplishment. And working as a volunteer can also give you a
sense of pride and identity, helping to boost your self-confidence further by
taking you out of your natural comfort zone and environment.
Indeed, volunteering helps you to feel better about
yourself, which you can then take back to your ‘regular’ routine, hopefully
creating a more positive view of your own life and future goals.
If you’re shy or fearful of new experiences, cultures, and travel, volunteering overseas could be an important and insightful way to help you build self-confidence in this area too (not forgetting the other benefit of this type of volunteering – a chance to see a bit of the world at the same time!).
Research shows that volunteering could be particularly useful and important in boosting the self-esteem and confidence of adolescents who are just starting out on their life journey. A 2017 study from the University of Missouri and Brigham Young University that included almost 700 11- to 14-year-olds examined how sharing, helping, and comforting others affected self-confidence. The study found that altruistic behaviors may indeed raise teens’ feelings of self-worth and that adolescents who assisted strangers reported higher self-esteem one year later.
“If you’re feeling lonely or simply want to widen your social circle, volunteering in your local community is an important – and fun – way to meet new people.”
And a National Youth Agency report seemed to corroborate this evidence. In it, young people aged 11 to 25 “repeatedly stressed that volunteering had increased their self-confidence, self-esteem, and self-belief.” This self-confidence boost was shown to be strongly linked to improved communication skills, especially amongst young volunteers who were previously nervous about meeting new people.
3. Volunteering is important for physical health…
Interestingly, volunteering has distinct health benefits
that can boost your mental and – perhaps more surprisingly – physical health.
Indeed, a growing body of evidence suggests that people who give their time to
others might benefit from lower blood pressure and a longer lifespan.
A 1999 study showed that ‘high volunteers’ (helping out at two or more organizations) had a 63 percent lower mortality rate than non-volunteers. And more recent research (2013) from Carnegie Mellon University found that adults over 50 who volunteered regularly were less likely to develop high blood pressure (hypertension) compare to non-volunteers. Hypertension is an important indicator of health as it contributes to stroke, heart disease, and premature death.
Lead study author Rodlescia Sneed said that carrying out volunteer work could increase physical activity among those who aren’t normally very active and that it could also reduce stress: “Many people find volunteer work to be helpful with respect to stress reduction, and we know that stress is very strongly linked to health outcomes.”
Importantly, volunteers seem to notice these health benefits too. Indeed, a 2013 study from UnitedHealth Group and the Optum Institute of over 3,300 U.S. adults revealed that 76 percent of those in the United States who volunteer said it makes them feel physically healthier. Also, around 25 percent said that volunteering had been important in helping them manage a chronic health condition.
4. …and mental health
When it comes to volunteering being important for mental health, the benefits are clear. It can help counteract the effects of stress, depression, and anxiety. Indeed, the social contact aspect of helping others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being.
Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and
helps you develop a solid support system, which in turn combats against
feelings of loneliness and depression. Volunteering with animals has also been
shown to improve mood, reducing stress and anxiety.
Finally, volunteering boosts mental health simply because it
makes you happier; the so-called ‘helper’s high’. Human beings are hard-wired
to give to others, and by measuring so-called brain activity and happiness
hormones, researchers have found that being helpful to others can deliver great
A 2008 study from the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and happiness in a large group of American adults. The researchers found that the more people volunteered, the happier they were. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being ‘very happy’ rose seven percent among those who volunteer monthly and 12 percent for those who volunteer every two to four weeks.
5. Volunteering is important for a sense of purpose
Because volunteering means choosing to work without
receiving monetary compensation, people often choose to give their time to
issues or organizations they feel are important or have a special connection
For example, if you’re a big animal lover you may want to volunteer at a pet shelter. Or, perhaps you’ve to live with or have recovered from an illness and want to dedicate some of your spare time to a charity that helps others living with the same condition. Volunteering like this helps address a social problem that is meaningful to you and in turn helps to build a sense of purpose, which furthermore boosts your own happiness.
“When it comes to volunteering being important for mental health, the benefits are clear. It can help counteract the effects of stress, depression, and anxiety.”
You can try volunteering at any age to help build a sense of purpose, but it’s often particularly common in older adults – those that have retired or maybe lost a partner or friend. Whatever your age or life story, volunteering can be an important technique to help give your life new meaning and direction!
6. Volunteering helps you forget your own problems
One other benefit of volunteering is that focusing on others
can give us a deeper sense of perspective and help distract us from negative thoughts
and help stop rumination. Volunteering often involves helping those in need and
can be useful in showing us that, in fact, our own lives are not as bad as we
thought they were.
7. Volunteering is important for your career
In an increasingly competitive job market, volunteering
experience can be incredibly useful. It shows potential employers that you can
take initiative and that you’re willing to give your own time to improve the
world for other people.
Furthermore, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important common skills used in the workplace, such as communication, teamwork, problem-solving, planning, and organization. Indeed, if you haven’t had a full-time job before then volunteering is an essential way to prove your skills when you do go for work interviews.
Also, if you’ve just graduated or looking for your first job, volunteering is an important and relatively easy way to get a foot in the door of a company you’d like to work with. Even if there’s no immediate chance of employment afterward, volunteering can help you to make connections for the future.
Alternatively, if you’ve already had jobs and are
considering a change of direction, volunteering is an important and fun way to
try out different career options, especially if you’re not quite sure of where
you want to go next. Indeed, volunteering offers you the chance to try out a
new career without making a long-term commitment!
Conclusions: the importance of volunteering
It’s clear the benefits of volunteering are huge – improved mental and physical health, new friends and avoiding loneliness, a sense of purpose, and deeper self-confidence. In turn, all of these things will help to boost your overall happiness: a win-win situation for all involved.
If you’re considering volunteering, ask yourself a few questions
before taking the plunge. Firstly, really think about which causes you’re
passionate about – it means you’re more likely to enjoy and stay committed to
Secondly, are you looking for regular volunteering opportunities or would you prefer a one-off project? Thirdly, what skill set can you offer and what can you hope to gain from volunteering? Good luck when you finally get going and make sure you have fun – volunteering is important – the benefits are clear – but it’s important to enjoy it too!
Have you ever or do you still volunteer now? What are the
benefits for you? What did you enjoy most about it? The happiness.com community
would love to hear your story below…