By Susan Shain
“For it is in giving that we receive.” ~St. Francis of Assisi
If there were a magic pill that led to a 22 percent lower mortality rate and higher levels of self-esteem and happiness, would you try it?
I’m betting you would.
Well I’m here to share some good news: there’s no need for pills or money or magic. In fact, the solution is both free and easy. It’s called volunteering, and it’s proven to make you happier and healthier. All it requires is an open mind, full heart, and a few hours of your time.
Wondering why giving back affects your outlook so dramatically? Here are four reasons:
Why Volunteering Makes You Happier
1. You boost your self-esteem.
Loving yourself is one of the keys to happiness. You may be thinking, I don’t know anything or I don’t have anything to offer the world but you’re wrong.
I don’t have a lot of practical skills: I can’t fix a car, teach art, or bake an award-winning pie—and don’t even get me started on long division. So I used to think there weren’t volunteer opportunities for me. That is, until I got involved as a mentor to at-risk youth.
Who knew I could help kids just by hanging out with them? It was an incredible experience, and it showed me that everybody has skills to share.
Whatever you’re good at, and passionate about, there are causes that need your light and love. You could walk dogs at the animal shelter or deliver meals to the elderly; even if you’re homebound, there are remote volunteering opportunities you can do from behind your computer.
Seeing how you—yes, you!—can help make the world a better place is one of the greatest self-esteem boosters you’ll ever experience.
2. You make new friends.
As an adult, meeting new people is tough. But it’s proven that people with an extensive social network are happier. What’s a good way to create that group of friends? Volunteering.
While volunteering both in the States and abroad, I’ve met lots of wonderful people. People who I admire and respect; people who have stayed in my life for many years. It was easy to find common ground while volunteering together, and it was easy to stay friends because of our similar worldviews.
Just last month, I traveled with friends in New Zealand whom I met two years ago while volunteering in Nicaragua; a few weeks later, I ate breakfast with a friend in Singapore whom I met nine years ago while volunteering in East Africa.
It was so good to see them all again—and because of our shared experiences and perspectives, we never ran out of things to talk about (and likely never will).
Volunteering = friends. Friends = happiness. It’s a pretty simple equation, if you ask me!
3. You learn new skills.
Learning is one of the best ways to engage your mind, and in turn, make you more satisfied with your life. When you think of learning, you may picture a classroom and textbooks, but I believe real life experience is a much better teacher. And one of my favorite ways to learn new skills is through volunteering.
When I was seventeen years old, I didn’t know a hammer from a screwdriver. But then I co-led an alternative spring break trip during my senior year in high school; we helped to build houses with Habitat for Humanity.
Though our volunteer vacation was only a week long, I learned more in that week than I probably did my whole senior year.
Is there a skill you want to learn? Or a foreign country you’d like to discover? How about a language? (I learned Spanish while volunteering abroad in Nicaragua.) Or perhaps, you just want to learn more about yourself.
Whatever it is, there’s a volunteering opportunity that will help you achieve your goals and bring positive change to your life
4. You feel fulfilled.
What’s even more important than happiness? Fulfillment: the feeling that you are contributing to something bigger than yourself. Some people find it through their careers, some through their family, and some through their art. Me? I’ve found it through volunteering.
Whether you call it the “warm and fuzzies,” or simply just “feeling good,” giving back to others will bring you happiness—as well as its more elusive cousin, fulfillment.
I volunteer because I feel like something’s missing in my life if I don’t. I currently give my time to a garden and learning center where we teach young kids about the power of healthy eating. Seeing their faces light up when they learn they actually like broccoli is something I wouldn’t give up for the world.
If you’d like to bring some sunshine into your life, try bringing it into someone else’s first. Whether you serve food at a soup kitchen once a month or go on a volunteer vacation in Tanzania, stop making excuses and just go for it. Your world—and your soul—will thank you.
Happy hands image via Shutterstock
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