By: Sapna Fliedner MSN, HHC
Of course, you know that volunteering is a good thing, but did you also know that giving back enhances six key areas of well-being? Studies out of Vanderbilt University’s department of sociology connect volunteering with improvements in happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, a sense of control over life, physical health, and depression. Impressive!
And older Americans can derive even more health benefits. According to a report by the Corporation for National and Community service, volunteering 100 hours per year (that’s a mere 2 hours a week!) can help those age 60 and older have greater life satisfaction, functional ability, lower rates of depression,—and even live longer.
When you make volunteering a regular part of your family’s routine, the benefits are enormous. Children learn about compassion, empathy, gratitude and community responsibility. There is a deeper connection to humanity when you can see through the eyes of someone else. When you teach your children this from a young age, they will naturally feel more spiritually grounded, less competitive and will naturally become adults who give back too.
Beyond the physiological and psychological lift you get from donating yourself to a cause that’s bigger than you, volunteering presents a powerful opportunity for spiritual growth. When you help those in need, something inside of you opens up and expands, providing you with more time and energy than you ever thought you’d have to give.
Volunteering is so valuable on so many levels, but if you’re like many, fear, lack of time, and difficulty choosing a cause can hamper your best intentions to give back. Here are some simple ways to overcome those hurdles:
Fear—Does being seen for who you really are scare you? If so, embrace it! Volunteering can make you vulnerable as you will likely be working with people who are very far from you in terms of life experience. But vulnerability is the doorway to connection, so allow yourself to live authentically in these moments of service and in turn you’ll experience genuine fulfillment.
Time—A wise mentor once said that having “no time” is merely an excuse for not taking control of your life. Think about it. Do you make time for the things that really matter? Of course you do! This should be no different. Being creative can help you fit this into your busy lifestyle. If you have children, make it a family affair and you’ll have a meaningful way to spend time together. Or, plan a volunteer vacation where you can dedicate an entire week to helping rebuild a village or maintain trails. The options are endless.
If you are tight on time, one thing our family recently did was make small care packages filled with food, soap, toothbrushes. We keep these in the back of my car so when we see someone in need we are prepared. My children were so excited to start this project that they helped pick out the food and bag them into ziplocks. They were so careful as to make sure everyone got a granola bar or a soup packet, etc. that they counted everything! They said “We don’t want someone to not have everything.” They are now constantly on the lookout for people in need. Teaching your kids to constantly give reminds them that we are no different from each other. They are just in a situation right now that can happen to anybody.
How to Choose?—Follow your passion! But don’t feel like you have to do it all. Do you love dogs? The local ASPCA surely needs folks to walk their pups. Do you feel strongly that all kids deserve a fighting chance? Look up your local Big Sister chapter and get paired with a middle schooler in need of a mentor. Maybe donating food and helping out in local homeless shelter would be the right fit for your family. You will need to quietly contemplate what speaks to your heart. Once you do that, where to commit will become crystal clear.
Because in the end, it really does boil down to heart. Says David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation: “Volunteering makes the heart grow stronger.” When families reach out to help others, their children learn that this is a natural response and the capacity to derive joy from helping others is deeply woven into human nature.