With everything going on right now in the world around us, we could all use a little ray of sunshine. And it turns out, doing good is not just good for the health of our communities: it’s good for our personal health, as well. Research shows that volunteering can help lift your spirits and may even make you healthier and improve longevity. Here are 8 ways you can help others, while bringing a little bit of joy and health to your own life.
1. Foster a Furry Friend, Reduce Stress
Simply petting an animal has been shown to help lower blood pressure and cholesterol. And another recent study showed that pet owners even had fewer doctor visits! Not everyone is in a position to adopt a furry companion for life, but for those who are, fostering a dog, cat or other pet in need can be a great way to enjoy these health benefits while being of support to animals in need. Not ready to become a foster parent to a furbaby? Check out a variety of options of animal-related virtual volunteer opportunities
2. Build a Healthier Team at Work
Many of us are working from home for the first time or just looking for ways to feel more connected to our colleagues as we navigate these uncertain times. Volunteering offers the opportunity to do just that and can help improve your overall work environment.
Based on a recent study VolunteerMatch conducted in partnership with UnitedHealthcare, almost three-fourths of employees who volunteer through work report feeling better about their employer. 91% of the people we surveyed believe it is important for an employer to allow employees to volunteer on paid time -- offering a good opportunity to bring wellness and social impact programs together at work.
While a lot of in-person workplace volunteering has slowed down, you can still do fun team volunteer activities together like virtual or safely distanced food drives to help bridge the distance between your geographic locations. Arrange for co-workers to drop off non-perishable food items outside of your house and make arrangements to have a nonprofit pick up the food or have them grab the food straight from your car in a drive-through drop-off.
3. Let Your Skills Shine -- For Yourself and Others
It feels great when we are able to use our skills and talents to help others. With over 60% of volunteering opportunities identified as skills-based and opportunities in every US zip code in the VolunteerMatch Network, you can find a variety of ways to use your skills to help your communities, just by selecting the skills area on the search filter. Whether you decide to apply office skills you’ve cultivated like graphic design, marketing, or finance, or bring your teaching skills forward to become a tutor or mentor, or bring your love of art, yoga or dance to help others, you’ll feel great by bringing forward your experience and authenticity to support people in need.
4. Write For (An Even Longer) Life!
A study from Carnegie Mellon University, published in Psychology and Aging showed that people over 50 who volunteered at least 200 hours of volunteering per year decreased their likelihood of developing high blood pressure by 40%. What’s a fun way to volunteer and reap this benefit? Write! Many nonprofits need writing help on a one-time or ongoing basis. Whether you’re helping write thank you notes to donors, crafting articles and blog posts, or delivering grant writing to help raise funds, a huge range of opportunities await.
And guess what? Not only may volunteering lower your blood pressure, it may actually help you live longer overall. Analysis of data from the Longitudinal Study of Aging showed that there were lower mortality rates among people who volunteer, even when controlling for physical health.
5. Develop the Next Generation of Leaders
Based on the study VolunteerMatch did with UnitedHealthcare, 75% of U.S. adults feel physically healthier by volunteering. You can put your skills to good use by helping out your community and supporting leaders of tomorrow by volunteering to help a child in person within your community or virtually.
Seeing a child learn and grow is incredibly rewarding. But what you may not know is it can also delay or even reverse declining brain in older adults according to a study by Johns Hopkins University. By teaching a child you will also be filling a larger need we are seeing now as many parents don’t have extended families to help them teach and nurture their child’s growth and development -- which will only be tougher with many schools going entirely online in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Consider lending a hand and being a tutor to a young person today. Or, invest alongside the next generation of climate change leaders in making our environment cleaner and healthier, virtually or in person.
6. Let Your Hobbies Be A Help… AND Strengthen Your Neural Network
Learning new skills helps your memory and to prevent dementia according to a study that included older participants, which was published in the journal Psychological Science. Participating in challenging activities will strengthen entire networks in the brain. This is done through “strengthening connections in between parts of your brain, explains cognitive psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman. Consider picking up a new hobby like quilting, sewing, gardening, cooking or photography, while making a difference in your community. You can also unleash your hobbies to support people with disabilities virtually or in person and help arts and culture causes virtually or in person.
7. Start Something Good, Add Purpose to Your Life
Whether you are retired, looking for work, have extra time, or just are ready to give back, volunteering can add more purpose to your life at any age. One study of older adults in particular showed that volunteering provided a sense of purpose for those who had experienced the loss of major role identities, such as wage-earner and parent. So make giving back a part of your life and start something good today.
Need some new ideas? Consider lending a sympathetic ear, starting a clothing drive or sewing masks. If you still don’t know where to begin, start with the causes you are most passionate about. With 29 cause areas on VolunteerMatch, you have a variety of options to select from. Right now, there are more than 500,000 virtual volunteers needed in causes supporting kids, so you might consider finding a way to get your whole family involved in volunteering. Or support veterans, those in the military and military families. With over 41,000 virtual volunteers needed in that cause area, you can find a way to be of service to those who have or are serving our country.
8. Make Volunteering a Habit and Feel Happier
Researchers believe that a threshold exists to gain the most out of volunteering if you’d like to not only do good, but also feel good.
Based on a few studies, there are two key things that can help you do just that:
- Volunteer with 2 or more organizations
- Spend 40 hours to 100 hours per year volunteering
From our VolunteerMatch and UnitedHealthcare study we know that 93% reported an improved mood and 88% reporting increased self-esteem by giving back. And, another recent study from Journal of Happiness Studies shows that volunteering makes people happier. Those who had volunteered in the past year had higher levels of satisfaction in their lives and had rated their health overall as better in comparison with those who didn’t volunteer. And, people who volunteered at a minimum of once a month reported better mental health compared to those that occasionally volunteered or not at all. According to the Journal of Happiness Study, people who began to volunteer became happier over time. Make volunteering a regular part of your month, and you’ll be well on your way to a happier, more fulfilling life!
Get the Latest Research on the Impact of COVID-19 on Volunteering