The New Year is a wonderful opportunity to think about how we can make life better for ourselves and do things differently. But conventional resolutions are often about restraint, and countless, sadly, fall flat on their face.
What if I told you there was another way to be happier and healthier this New Year, and no diet or cross-training machine is required? In fact, this activity is scientifically proven to make your life better in a number of ways without costing a dime.
What is it? Volunteering.
More than just an altruistic glow and the satisfaction of helping others, volunteering actually gives a lot back to the one doing the helping.
It turns out that from your physical health and happiness levels to improving your career prospects, volunteering is very worthwhile if you want to make life better!
Let’s examine the benefits in greater detail, and how much volunteering you should do to reap the rewards.
Why should I volunteer?
A great bod
Those that volunteer are good hearted in more ways than one. This research showed that people who volunteered regularly were less likely to develop high blood pressure over four years than those who didn’t volunteer. Volunteers were also more likely to use preventative health care services like cholesterol checks and flu shots. Better yet, a sense of purpose, that you feel with volunteering, is linked with better heart health.
Quality of life
This sense of purpose, as mentioned above, is helped in no small part by increased social connections. We now know that loneliness is as bad for your health as smoking. Connecting with your community and staying active all make life a little better.
Whether it’s connecting with another person or working with animals, the social aspect of volunteering can reduce stress, anxiety and depression – all of which can contribute to positive physical health. It’s a virtuous circle.
Heard of the “helper’s high” or “giver’s glow”? Helping others gives us a generous helping of happy chemical dopamine in the brain. Of people that volunteered weekly, 16% felt “very happy” – that’s a hike in happiness comparable to a salary of $75,000–$100,000 rather than $20,000 (say the researchers!)
Gathering around a shared activity with like-minded people is the perfect spark for making friends. Volunteering can help you improve your social skills and expand your connections. It’s worth knowing that little else matches the happiness we get from friendship.
One of the reasons you might not volunteer is due to time constraints, yet paradoxically, volunteers who give their time often feel like they have more of it – in the same way that people who give to charity often feel like they’re wealthier. Strange but true.
Businesses look more favourably on your CV if you have voluntary experience – it shows that you’re a hard worker, and keen to acquire knowledge and skills. For those considering a career leap, volunteering can provide a taster and a chance to get some experience under your belt.
How often should I volunteer?
So, how much should you volunteer to reap all these benefits? First of all, you’ll enjoy it a lot more if you’re volunteering for a cause you actually care about. Try searching on Neighbourly’s volunteering board for an activity you’re interested in.
Weekly volunteers enjoy the biggest hike in happiness – with 16% of those that did feeling “very happy”. People who volunteered monthly and every two to four weeks rose their odds of being very happy by 7% and 12% respectively.
But you don’t have to make volunteering a very regular thing to enjoy the benefits. In fact, there’s a certain sweet spot to volunteering – just 2-3 hours a week – after which the benefits no longer stack up the more you do. If you did indeed volunteer 100 hours in 2017, you can expect a boost in your self-esteem, happiness and satisfaction a year later.
Neighbourly matches charity and community projects with people and companies that can lend a hand. Get support by creating and sharing a project or give support by following, donating or giving a day to volunteer.