You’re probably familiar with that surge of satisfaction you feel from giving a loved one an impromptu gift. Or maybe you’ve noticed that helping a colleague with a task puts you in a better mood. You might not be surprised to discover then, that studies have found performing acts of kindness can benefit our mental health1,2.
Whether it's helping somebody less fortunate than you, spending time with animals or working to make the world a better place, whatever small difference you can make is incredibly valuable. But giving your time and skills also gives you plenty back in return. Here are just a handful of ways volunteering can enhance your life.
1. Be part of your community
Volunteering is a great way to become more connected to your community, being involved in its fabric in a meaningful and productive way. Volunteering can help build your sense of engagement and trust in your relationships with others in your community.
2. Make new friends
Getting involved in a cause you care about is a great opportunity to step outside your comfort zone and meet new people with shared interests and passions. Often, these are people who you might not otherwise find yourself in contact with. This can lead to new friendships and a broader social support network that can become an enriching part of your life. Volunteering with friends and family can also help strengthen existing relationships by working together towards a shared goal.
If you’re someone who finds interacting with people — especially strangers — causes feelings of stress or anxiety, volunteering may seem like a difficult task. However, a recent study2 showed that socially anxious individuals who engaged in thoughtful acts displayed an increase in relationship satisfaction and a decrease in social avoidance. While this area requires further research, initial findings have indicated that showing kindness to other people could improve the fear of social interaction.
3. Boost your happiness
Simply put, helping others can bring a smile to your face. Volunteering is a fun and easy way to explore your interests and passions, at the same time as giving you the mood-boosting good vibes of contributing to the world.
4. Learn new skills
You might find a volunteer role that helps you consolidate skills you already have, or you might gain valuable experience and training in something completely different. Learning something new is a great way to enrich your life and feel inspired and motivated.
If you're starting out in your career or think you might like to go in a different direction someday, volunteering is a great way to try out a new career and explore a particular field, without making a long term commitment.
5. Support your mental health
A recent study1 tested a group of individuals experiencing depression, and had them take part in either a meditation exercise, or complete an act of kindness, every other day for three weeks. By the end of the study, researchers found that participants in both groups reported reductions in their symptoms, with participants who completed the acts of kindness reporting the biggest reduction compared to the other group.
6. Improve your physical health
As well as boosting your mental health, volunteering could result in you spending more time on-the-go. Whether it's an extra thousand steps or connecting with a new workout buddy, a regular volunteering commitment may provide that extra encouragement that you need to jump up from the couch and move more for a good cause.
7. Find balance and fulfilment
Doing volunteer work you find meaningful and interesting can be both relaxing and energizing, providing balance in your day to day routine. It may also give you renewed creativity, motivation and vision that can carry over into your personal and professional life.