‘With thanks to the Institute of Volunteering Research, UEA’
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 at 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 realise just how important volunteering could be for the person doing it? In fact, volunteering is
beneficial to the doer for a whole host or reasons, including stress reduction, combating depression and providing a sense of purpose.
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.
“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.”
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.
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 while reducing stress and anxiety.
Finally, volunteering boosts mental health simply because carrying out an altruistic act 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 pleasure.
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 organisations they feel are important or have a special connection to.
For example, if you're a big animal lover you may want to volunteer at a pet shelter. Or, perhaps you’ve living 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.”
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.
The importance of volunteering
It's clear the benefits of volunteering are huge – improved physical and mental 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 the work.
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!