“Go volunteer, it’s good for you,” is sorta like looking at a spectacular sunrise and saying, “yep, that’s pretty.” But what exactly does volunteering do for us?
Many highly respected sources have looked into why volunteering is good for our well-being and their research centers mainly around a given premise.
Research into volunteering’s benefits on well-being
One recent article states: “when we help others, we tend to experience what researchers call a warm glow. Second, volunteering is likely to help boost our sense of social connection.”
The premise surrounding volunteering’s benefits typically focuses on our need to belong and the “helper’s high.” Research also concludes there are benefits from sharpening skills that translate into job searching, especially for younger volunteers. And then, researchers conclude that “more research needs to be done.”
Researchers, here’s my gift to you. Over the years, I’ve witnessed volunteering benefits I haven’t heard anyone talk about. (except other volunteer managers)
I’m no psychologist and don’t pretend to be one, (unless I can’t get caught) although one time, when I was introduced to a therapist who was seeing a friend of mine, he fixed me in his gaze and said, “stop practicing without a license.” Ok, you got me. But what I’ve seen through the years in volunteering is:
Volunteering removes a multitude of inner pressures the volunteer feels in everyday life. For instance:
- Was I paid fairly for my work? Do I make enough money? (when there’s no money involved, guess what? Everyone is paid fairly.)
- Am I less than any other volunteer? (no, because when I’m connecting with someone who’s hurting, it makes no difference what my title is, how much money I have, how beautiful I am etc.)
- Is every little thing being criticized/analyzed? (in most cases no-I’m pretty much given encouragement; my volunteer manager is like a coach and has sincere faith in my abilities.)
- Am I appreciated for what I do or am I just a cog in the wheel? (I feel welcomed when I’m told how needed I am, how much I’m appreciated for showing up. Imagine that happening at my job? Ok, maybe at first, but every time I show up? Ha!)
But wait, there’s more:
Volunteering’s additional benefits:
- There’s a sense of newness/wonder.(I’m excited to come once or twice a week/month etc. and reinvigorate my volunteering.)
- I can relax and be accepted for who I am. (After my initial nervousness, I realized the organization is pretty chill and a whole heap of pressure came off. I found I’m a lot more talented than I thought.)
- I’m doing this because I want to. (no one’s making me show up. I’m here because I want to be here. I’m here because I feel good being here. I call it, “my time to be me.” I feel free from the pressures to be a partner, a worker, a parent, a neighbor, and someone’s child. I feel those expectations lift and you know what? I’m a better at all of the above because I’m proving to myself that I’m a good person.)
- I am doing something meaningful, something altruistic, something free of bringing me money or fame or influence. This has a more pure feel to it. (and thanks to my wonderful volunteer manager, I understand my contributions are really helping. I know my time is valued.)
- I’ve got a chance to be good on a level playing field. (I feel like my life is kind of a mess right now, but here, I’m told my volunteering is amazing. You know what? I believe my volunteer manager. I can see for myself. My volunteering is amazing and I’m kinda amazing after all.)
- This is a safe-haven in my storm of life. (wow, how wonderful to have a place to go where I’m encouraged, cared about and can focus on something other than what’s happening in my life. It’s my place of refuge.)
- My inner skills come out. (I didn’t realize how good I was at relating to people or solving problems or getting things done until I was given the freedom to explore my talents. )
- I’m connecting with people I’d never get to meet. (New connections open my world, and reinforce my hope that humanity is basically good)
- I’m learning and growing.
Research is wonderful, but it needs to look deeper. It needs to ask, “what stifling pressures are lifted when people volunteer? What potentials do people discover when stepping outside their boxes?” And finally, “what well-being benefits are hiding just beneath the surface?”
In my mind, volunteering is the freedom to be human. It’s complicated, but so basic. Volunteering can peel away the everyday pressures we feel and free us to be our most genuine human selves, the selves we yearn to be.
who has the answers?
Maybe researchers could save some time by asking volunteer managers what volunteering benefits they’ve witnessed. You know, expand the research a bit?
Or wait. Maybe, just maybe, researchers could look into the role a welcoming and vibrant volunteer initiative plays in creating an atmosphere in which a volunteer’s well-being increases. And, oh, yeah, maybe ask what role a competent and knowledgeable volunteer manager who coaches, encourages, mentors, and builds up the volunteer plays in furthering a volunteer’s well-being.
Hey! Maybe there’s a direct correlation.
oh, for more reading (cause ya can’t get enough, right?), here’s an older post on gathering some of these statistics and showcasing them. Maybe researchers would start to take notice.