How Volunteering is GOOD for you
Traditionally, we always think of volunteering as something kind that we're doing for others. It's us giving our time, knowing we won't get anything in return. But that's not true. The truth is, we're getting a lot in return. Volunteering isn't just something you should do to help others; it's something you should do to help yourself.
We have a lot of great organizations in our community that rely heavily on volunteers. Service groups (all volunteer-based) raise hundreds of thousands of dollars to support nonprofits, improve our parks, provide scholarships to smart kids wh, and more. Nonprofits like the LOEL Senior Center do things like bringing warm meals to seniors, and places like the Lodi Library providing services like after school tutoring for kids. Volunteers help care for animals at local shelters. They help women and children who are leaving abusive situations to have a better life, and they help keep places like Lodi Lake clean. I'm sure you're reading this thinking of ways you've volunteered that I haven't listed. The point is, volunteers do a LOT!
Okay, you get that. Volunteering is great for the community, but volunteering is also great for you. It's great for you mentally and physically. Volunteering can help you in ways medicine could never improve you mentally or physically. Volunteering can:
Help counteract the effects of stress and anxiety
Lower blood pressure (according to a study through Carnegie Mellon, cited in the Harvard Health Publishing)
Provide a sense of purpose
Stay physically and mentally active
May even help you live longer (cited in several reports, including a Mayo Clinic report)
Here are a couple of studies… when seniors volunteer to mentor children, they improve their stamina and decrease their levels of depression. 10th graders in Canada volunteered at an afterschool program mentoring children, the volunteers lost weight and improved their cholesterol. Researchers can isolate all the things, but the consistent thing they find is people who volunteer live longer.
Sign me up, right?
Of course, volunteering just for the sake of volunteering isn't what makes a difference. It's finding the right connection. I have a nonprofit background, so I have lots of articles and videos saved about volunteering. I watched a TED Talk recently about volunteering, and I liked the takeaway. The takeaway was if you want to volunteer in a way that can best benefit you and others, look for these three things:
Find something you're passionate about. We've all seen the high school students being forced to volunteer by their parents to improve their college applications. Those kids are miserable. They're typically signed up for something that doesn't match their passions. I used to work with those kids, and it wasn't fun for anyone involved. Not the kid, not the nonprofit, not the people visiting the nonprofit, and not for the well-meaning parents. Find something you're passionate about that you want to help with. Maybe that means you sign up to support an organization whose mission you love, or perhaps it means you start your own work. Volunteering doesn't always require a bunch of tax codes and government intervention. It could just be finding like-minded people who want to make a difference. Find something you're passionate about and do it.
Make it altruistic. Do it because you WANT to. If you feel obligated, you're not going to have the same benefit. You're not going to lower your anxiety and stress when if you've been forced into volunteering. Volunteering and being volun" told" are two different things. You know the difference. If you're guilted into helping, you're going to be counting the minutes till you're out and hating it. In the words of Ghandi, "The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others."
Get the right dose. If you volunteer once every Thanksgiving, you're probably not getting the benefits of volunteering. You're not building those relationships and making those connections. If you're volunteering all the time, to the point where it's negatively affecting your other responsibilities, that won't benefit you either. That just creates more stress. Find the right amount. The right amount is different for all of us. Maybe that means once a month, once a week, or once a day. Find out what's right for you and do it.
So there you are Do-Gooders. Volunteer for the community and volunteer for yourself. Putting more good in the world will do you good!