While I was in high school, I volunteered at a hospice, where patients were essentially cared for until they passed away. Although many had family, it was shocking to see how many elderly individuals were abandoned. It broke my heart to know that these individuals felt like they were alone.
Visiting various patients for two to three hours after school, three times weekly meant that they had something to look forward to. For those I would visit, I knew what it meant to them — I could see it on their faces. I was surprised by how rewarding the overall experience was.
Volunteering is a small job with BIG rewards
Between September 2014 and September 2015, 62.6 million people volunteered through an organization — a rate that was down 0.4 percent from the previous year. Some of the main organizations and groups were those related to religion, educational youth services, social services and health services.
Related: 5 Reasons To Volunteer
For years, the power of volunteering has been well documented, but science is now able to show more concrete, positive effects. If you currently a volunteer or would like to make a difference in your community, be aware of the following surprising, yet enlightening benefits.
1. You’ll feel as though you have more time
Time is the one thing we could all use more of it — as they say, time waits for no man. As reported in the Harvard Business Review, professor Cassie Mogilner found that when people “give” time away, they actually feel more time affluent. Volunteering made participants feel as though they had time to spare and were less likely to view their time as scarce.
Of course, volunteering won’t magically give you more hours in the day, but being charitable makes you feel more productive — like you’re spending your time more effectively. In fact, it was found that those who volunteered also felt more confident, useful and capable.
2. You’ll develop new skills
Not only can volunteering provide you with opportunities to strengthen social skills, but also valuable career skills. Just because someone isn’t paying you for your time, does not mean that you’re not learning a range of skills, all while helping your community. Whether you strengthen your communication or leadership skills, you will most certainly open your mind.
3. You can explore your interests
When you volunteer, you will benefit from a rewarding experience that heightens your creativity and level of motivation. Volunteering is a way to helps others, while you make time for hobbies outside of your work environment. If you work indoors, for instance, you may find it rewarding to help out at a gardening center or a youth camp.
4. You can test-drive a career
Before I went to college, I volunteered at a local mental health hospital, tutoring young adults within the forensic ward. For me, it was an opportunity — one in which allowed me to dig a little deeper. Before you commit to school or a long-term career, volunteering can provide you with some insight as you gain experience.
5. You’ll be happier
Of course, it’s rewarding to help those in need, but you may be surprised the impact volunteering can have on your own personal mental health. Within one study, published in Social Science and Medicine, found that when compared to those who never volunteer, levels of happiness rose by 12 percent among those who volunteer every two to four weeks.
Researchers stated that among weekly volunteers, 16 percent were very happy. The documented rise in happiness levels was comparable to an individual having an income of $75,000 to $100,000 versus $20,000. Since positive emotional and overall mental health are closely linked to physical health, boost those volunteering endorphins.
6. Support optimal health
As mentioned, volunteering supports your mental health — but it will also help you maintain your health physically. A number of studies have linked volunteering with lower rates of mortality, reduced blood pressure, fewer pain-related symptoms and a lower risk of heart disease. You may not make money, but your health is wealth — can’t argue that one, right?
7. Can increase feelings of confidence
While volunteering, some individuals display a significant boost in self-esteem, leading to increased feelings of confidence. As you become more selfless, doing good for others, you will naturally feel as though you have accomplished something great. For many, volunteering provides them with an opportunity to find their true identity, as they feel an overwhelming sense of pride.
8. Helps to reduce feelings of stress
Giving back feels good and when you feel positive, you are generally more relaxed. Within one study, published in the American Journal of Public Health, after examining 846 participants, it was found that helping others reduced mortality rates. More specifically, volunteering buffered the association between mortality and stress.
9. Encourages strong relationships
While volunteering, you will often build meaningful connections with others. As you strengthen relationships, you also build a more reliable support system. By strengthening and developing key social skills, you will be able to take what you learned and apply it to other relationships — outside of your voluntary role.
10. Provides the opportunity to truly make a difference
How often do you hear people say, “ I wish there was something I can do.” The truth is, no act of kindness is too small. If you’re passionate about a cause or would simply like to brighten someone’s day, volunteering provides you with that opportunity. You never know what’s around the next corner and by helping others, how knows how great the impact will be — you could inspire someone or even help an individual heal.
11. Promotes greater work-life balance
There’s a reason why so many researchers have recommended a healthy work-life balance. especially within our modern, hectic world. If you’re someone who finds it hard to step away from work, volunteering may be a beneficial solution. You need some down time in order to increase levels of productivity and to ensure positive health.
12. Helps you achieve personal growth
One thing is certain: we’re always changing. As we experience new things, they become a part of us, helping us gain perspective as we strengthen our identity. Learning is a lifelong phenomenon and regardless of where you volunteer, the act itself can teach you so much. Just as you will personally grow and develop, you may also influence and teach others.
13. Expand your network
Whether you’re looking for greater social or professional support, volunteering can help broaden your horizons. You will become a part of a community, which will be made up of like-minded individuals. What goes around comes around — if you were willing to help others, you will more than likely have someone that will be there for you if you are ever in need.
So, remember what Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself, is to lose yourself in the service of others.” To make a difference, check out one of these organizations: Volunteer Match, Help Stay, BUNAC or check with your local community to see where help is needed.
— Krista Hillis