Volunteering is as common as breathing. It is part of our nature. All of us are volunteers in our everyday lives. Children volunteer their time to play with other children, to teach each other a new trick or a game, to help build sand castles and invent new toys. Older kids help each other with homework, social support, relationship advice, and house chores. Adults share their knowledge and help out their families, friends, and strangers. The simplest of gestures such as holding the door or an elevator for someone, or giving up a seat on the bus, or saying a kind word, are all acts of volunteering. No one is forcing us to do these things, but we do them anyway. Some behaviors are conditioned by society or family upbringing, but many come to us naturally because they feel right.
Even if we feel we contribute enough to making this world a better place with our high impact jobs, raising great children, or donating to charity - here are some reasons to take a more active approach and consciously volunteer:
1. Improved health and happiness. Helping others feels good and has been scientifically proven. Volunteering can improve our general mood and make us happier through reducing stress, bonding with other living beings, and appreciating what we already have in relation to others who are less fortunate. It helps us not to take things for granted and may give us a good excuse to exercise more or at least get out of the office.
2. Spreading happiness. Happy people give more. When we help someone we set off a chain reaction that makes the other person more likely to give back to the world in some way. If each one of us made just one other person happy, there wouldn't be any unhappy people in the world.
3. Acquired knowledge. We have to know something before we can teach it. Anyone who has ever had to mentor or tutor someone knows this already. Our understanding of the subject deepens when we attempt to impart that knowledge on someone else, so we grow as a result. In addition, we learn from the general experience of volunteering. We learn how to better communicate, how to motivate others, how to be more patient and caring, and discover new ideas and new abilities that we never knew we had.
4. Mental stimulation. New experiences stimulate the brain. We grow the most when we step outside our comfort zone. When we break away from the same routine our brain thinks about problems in a different way. Being away from the office or home can help us identify new solutions. We may encounter situations through our volunteering that will help us understand our coworkers or families better and gain new perspectives on what we can and should do. Volunteering creates new experiences and positive psychology research indicates that we need new experiences to sustain happiness. Volunteering is a great opportunity to try something completely different from what we have been doing, a new activity, a new community, a new industry. Why not try joining an activity or community that you were always curious about and help people at the same time?
5. Continue the cycle. We all have people in our lives that inspired us to achieve the unachievable. Parents, teachers, friends, colleagues, bosses. These great mentors are not born this way, they are formed through volunteering. We can have a great positive influence on someone else's life too. It is in our own professional interest as well. If we help our employees improve - our employees would produce better work, be more likely to help others and stay with the company longer, and support us should we need their help down the road.
There is a dark side to volunteering. OK, more of a shadow. We should not force our help on others if they are not interested, because that would backfire and cause the opposite effect. We need to understand our own strengths. We should not overburden ourselves with volunteering and give up our own goals. We must still lead our own lives and pursue our own goals. It is about finding a balance.
There were times in my life when I was burned out, because I had given so much of myself to others. I had to recognize that my energy had a limit. I found that medium point now where I can foster growth in others and leave room for my own. It's a fantastic feeling and I hope to share it with you.
So what are you waiting for? Find a great cause and be an inspiration to others!