We know that volunteering, done right, can help others. Not many realise that helping others can also make volunteers healthier and happier! We all live such busy lives these days – whether you’re a student, a family person, a career person, or a mixture of these things.
It can be hard to find time to look after your own health and happiness, let alone find time to volunteer your time and skills – especially abroad! However, the benefits of volunteering can be pretty big for you, your family and friends, and the communities you get to know and work with.
The right volunteering or internship project can help you reduce stress, make friends, learn about different cultures, learn new skills, and even advance your career. Giving your time and energy to others can also help protect your mental and physical health. Let’s check out some of the many benefits of helping others.
1. SO WHY SHOULD I VOLUNTEER?
Volunteering offers vital help to people in need and worthwhile causes – but the benefits can be even greater for you, the volunteer. Volunteering and helping others can help you reduce stress, combat depression, keep you mentally stimulated, and provide a sense of purpose. While it’s true that the more you volunteer, the more benefits you’ll experience, volunteering doesn’t have to involve a long-term commitment or take a huge amount of time out of your busy life. Giving in even simple ways can help others those in need and improve your health and happiness.
2. VOLUNTEERING MAKES YOU HAPPIER
Helping others creates happiness, as many studies have demonstrated. When researchers at the London School of Economicsexamined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were, according to a study in Social Science and Medicine. Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy.
Check out this report from Harvard University for more info: Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A Practical, Easy Guide for Healthy, Happy Living.
3. VOLUNTEERING CONNECTS YOU TO OTHERS
One of the better-known benefits of volunteering is the impact on the community you decide to volunteer in. Volunteering allows you to connect to your community and make it a better place. Even helping out with the smallest tasks of day-to-day living can make a real difference to the lives of people, animals, and organizations in need. And volunteering is a two-way street: It can benefit you and your family as much as the cause you choose to help. Dedicating your time as a volunteer helps you make new friends, expand your network, and boost your social skills. You’ll be amazed at how friendly and beautiful countries like South Africa are!
4. MAKE NEW FRIENDS AND CONTACTS THROUGH VOLUNTEERING
One of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to commit to a shared activity together. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, especially if you are a first-time traveler to a foreign country. It strengthens your ties to the community and broadens your support network, exposing you to people with common interests, resources, and fun and fulfilling activities.
5. VOLUNTEERING ABROAD CAN INCREASE YOUR SOCIAL AND RELATIONSHIP SKILLS
While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and have a hard time meeting new people. Volunteering overseas gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you are pretty far out of your comfort zone, meeting a group of people with common interests. Once you have momentum, it’s easier to branch out and make more friends and contacts.
6. VOLUNTEERING CAN HELP PREVENT DEPRESSION AND ANXIETY
Volunteering helps counteract the effects of stress, anger, and anxiety. The social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on your overall psychological well-being. Nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection to another person. Working with animals has also been shown to improve mood and reduce stress and anxiety.
Volunteering keeps you in regular contact with others and helps you develop a solid support system, which in turn protects you against depression. Also, by measuring hormones and brain activity, researchers have discovered that being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure. Human beings are hard-wired to give to others. The more we give, the happier we feel.
7. VOLUNTEERING BOOSTS SELF-CONFIDENCE
You are using your skills and resources to do good things for others, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment. Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride, and strengthen your sense of identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.
8. VOLUNTEERING HELPS YOU STAY PHYSICALLY HEALTHY
Even if you are not as fit as a pro footballer; being active with a group of lively youngsters, helping out at a nature conservation project in a big reservation, or even just being active by medical or community volunteering in a general way – you’ll be moving around and busy all day instead of sitting behind a desk. Not to mention the opportunities you’ll have for hiking, swimming, or just walking around exploring a brand-new city!
9. VOLUNTEERING CAN IMPROVE YOUR CAREER OPTIONS
Whether you’re studying towards a career or considering a career change, volunteering in a related field can help you get experience in your area of interest and meet people in the field. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace – like teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization. You’ll probably feel a lot more comfortable in your workplace once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first!
In a lot of ways, volunteering offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment – such as working with children or impoverished families as an educator or social worker, becoming a sports coach, or working with animals.
Check out our article on job market advantages of volunteering in your gap year or sabbatical.
10. YOU DON’T NEED SPECIAL SKILLS FOR VOLUNTEERING
Passion and positivity are the only requirements! While learning new skills can be beneficial, it’s not a requirement for a fulfilling volunteer experience. Bear in mind that the most valuable skills you can bring to any volunteer effort are compassion, an open mind, a willingness to do whatever is needed, and a positive attitude.
11. THE RIGHT VOLUNTEERING ORGANIZATION WILL HELP YOU MAKE THE RIGHT CHOICES
You’re donating your valuable time, so it’s important that you enjoy and benefit from your volunteering. You can read more about choosing the right volunteer service provider here.
To make sure that your volunteer position is a good fit:
Ask questions. You want to make sure that the experience is right for your skills, your goals, and the time you want to spend. Sample questions to your volunteer coordinator might address your time commitment, if there’s any training involved, who you will be working with, and what to do if you have questions during your experience.
Make sure you know what’s expected. You should be comfortable with the organization and understand the time commitment. Consider starting small so that you don’t over commit yourself at first. Give yourself some flexibility to change your focus if needed.
Don’t be afraid to make a change. Don’t force yourself into a bad fit or feel compelled to stick with a volunteer role or program you dislike. Talk to the organization about changing your focus or look for a different organization that’s a better fit.
The best volunteer experiences benefit both the volunteer and the organization. If you’re not enjoying yourself, ask yourself why. Is it the tasks you’re performing? The people you’re working with? Or are you uncomfortable simply because the situation is new and familiar? Pinpointing what’s bothering you can help you decide how to proceed. You’re donating time and money to the project and organization – you’re allowed to enjoy yourself!