We probably all like the idea of doing something for others – maybe you already do – and you’ll know how good it makes you feel (and I don’t mean in a “aren’t I wonderful for doing this” kind of way).
We now understand why.
Volunteering benefits our happiness and wellbeing, as well as making an amazing difference to charities, voluntary groups and individuals.
Peggy Thoits has been researching the effects of various lifestyle choices in the US since 1986 and reveals that volunteering and activism are good for both mental and physical health. “People of all ages who volunteered were happier and experienced better physical health and less depression.”
So why is it so good for us?
“We know now that the stress response, hormones, and even the immune system are impacted by, and impact, the pathways in the brain. MRI studies of the participants’ brains revealed that making a donation activated the mesolimbic pathway – the brain’s reward center.”
What does that mean? When we volunteer or do something for someone else our brain releases feel-good chemicals, and we get a surge of energy that makes us feel joyful and reduces physical pain. You could say we’re hard-wired for giving!
My own story
After almost 30 years of volunteering in some capacity or another, and working in the voluntary sector for much of that time, I found myself missing something that was really important to me because I was spending long periods of time abroad.
Back in the UK I had a three month contract with the local office of a national charity. When I left to spend some months in France I was able to carry on helping them by volunteering using the internet. This is known as micro-volunteering. I spend a few hours a week preparing social media posts for them.
The internet now gives us many more ways that we can help others and ourselves. I’m still a great advocate for the importance of social connection through volunteering – being part of a group and having contact with the people you want to help gives you so much!
The 15 April is Micro-volunteering Day and their website has loads of ideas and links to a broad range of voluntary activities that you can do in tiny chunks of time, whenever and wherever you are – from smartphone actions to citizen science projects.