Volunteering Feeds Your Spirit

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Volunteering Feeds The Spirit, Boosts Happiness and Improves Health

You’re busy. When you think about volunteering in your spare time, the first question that comes to mind is, what spare time? Yet, your bubbly neighbour seems to have oodles of hours to volunteer despite the fact that she works full-time and is raising two children. How does she do it? More importantly, why does she do it?

The reason she does it likely has more to do with how volunteering makes her feel than how much free time she has. There are many, many benefits that come with volunteering including giving you a warm feeling from the inside out, boosting your happiness levels and even adding years to your life!

The undeniable benefits of giving your time to others

Research shows that volunteering holds benefits for people of all ages, from grade-schoolers to young adults to professionals and seniors. Volunteering connects you to your community, builds your network of friends and contacts, and can help you improve your skills or learn new ones. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg.

1. Make a real impact on your community

Volunteers are often the heart of a community. Quite simply, they make it a better place for people, animals and organizations that need help. Volunteers contribute to the fabric of a community, enjoy a strong sense of pride in their neighbourhood, serve as a watchful eye, and strive to improve conditions for all who call it home. That’s a lot of influence.

2. Expand your social circle exponentially

When a group of people commit to a shared activity, they are naturally brought together through common interests. If you want to make new friends, strengthen existing relationships or broaden your support network, volunteering is a great way to expand on your social circle.

3. Find your inner outgoing self

Perhaps you’re a little shy, or you work from home and don’t have a lot of social contact. Volunteering will take you out of your shell by providing an opportunity to develop social skills. It also combats isolation and loneliness. While it may seem difficult to put yourself out there at first, once you have momentum, it gets easier and even more fun!

4. Teach your children the valuable skill of giving

Often avid volunteers grew up in a household of volunteers. When a family volunteers the experience brings them closer together, teaches young children the value of giving their time and effort without expecting something in return, and introduces everyone to new skills and activities. As they get older, kids will be encouraged to continue on as volunteers.

To get your children invested in volunteering, allow younger ones to choose how they’d like to give to their community. Tie your volunteer efforts to an activity they already enjoy. For example, animal lovers might enjoy volunteering at an animal shelter. If they like to help in the kitchen, working in a food kitchen would be a good option.

5. Don’t worry. Volunteer and be happy.

There is a proven happiness factor to volunteering. It makes people feel good. And positive feelings are linked to lower stress levels, and greater overall happiness.

According to a study in Social Science and Medicine by the London School of Economics, the more people volunteered, the happier they were. Compared with those who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7 percent among those who volunteer monthly and 12 percent for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16 percent felt very happy.

6. Have a positive outlook on life

Volunteering boosts your self-confidence and life satisfaction. You are doing a great service to others, which parlays into a strong sense of pride and accomplishment. The better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive outlook on life.

If you’re feeling depressed, volunteering helps by connecting you with others so you don’t feel alone. Working with animals has also been shown to improve one’s mood and feelings of loneliness and depression.

7. Harness the health benefits

Volunteering is good for your health. According to a new study published in BMC Public Health, adults who volunteer may live longer, healthier lives. Volunteers experience a 20 percent drop in mortality, less depression and higher levels of life satisfaction. And according to a Carnegie Mellon University study, adults over 50 who volunteer regularly are 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure. Research also shows that for adults over 65, moderate levels of volunteering are associated with lower blood pressure and fewer hip fractures.

8. Get that new job or advance your career

Are you thinking of a new career or do you have your eye on a promotion in your company? Consider volunteering as an avenue to career satisfaction.

As a volunteer, you will learn skills that are of great value to any company like teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization. Some volunteer positions even provide training for advanced or professional skills that are required.

If you’re considering a career change, you can get a good sense of your new vocation by volunteering with an organization that does similar work. Your volunteer work may also expose you to organizations or internships that could be of benefit to your career.

Not to mention that being a volunteer looks very good on a resume. Many corporations have departments dedicated to a company’s philanthropic work. Having volunteer experience on your resume is an indication that you care about giving back as much as the company does.

9. Inject more fun into your life

Volunteering is a fun and easy way to break away from the every day. If you have an office job, you might volunteer to work in a community garden to get outdoors. If you need to fit more exercise into your life, you could volunteer to walk dogs for an animal shelter. The renewed creativity and motivation that you get from volunteering will boost your spirit, which will carry over into your personal and professional life benefiting all those you come in contact with.

What kind of a person volunteers?

Anyone can be a volunteer. As long as you are compassionate, and have an open mind and a positive attitude, you have what it takes to be a strong volunteer. The real question is, what type of volunteer position makes sense for you?

First, ask yourself why you want to volunteer. Is it because you:

  • Feel uninspired at work
  • Spend too much time at home alone
  • Want to meet new people
  • Want to improve areas of your community
  • Want to help people in need
  • Are considering a career change and need experience
  • Want to explore new hobbies and interests
  • Have time to spare

Once you have a good sense of why you are considering volunteering, you can take a look at the type of volunteering you are comfortable with. For example:

  • Do you want to work with adults, children or animals?
  • Do you want to work alone or as part of a team?
  • Do you want to take on a more visible role, or do you prefer to stay behind the scenes?
  • How much time can you commit to volunteering, and would it be evenings, days or weekends?
  • Are there any specific skills that you can offer? And what are they?
  • What causes are the most meaningful to you?

Start looking for your dream volunteer position

Organizations are always actively looking for volunteers. Check the classified section of your local papers for ads, search online for volunteer openings in your community, and check community websites. Other places you can check are:

  • Community theatres
  • Libraries
  • Senior centres, retirement homes and long-term care facilities
  • Meals on Wheels, soup kitchens
  • Service organizations such as Rotary Clubs
  • Women’s shelters
  • Animal shelters
  • Youth organizations, sports teams, and after-school programs
  • National parks and conservation organizations
  • Churches or synagogues
  • Children’s schools and daycare centres
  • Local divisions of national health groups such as the Heart & Stroke Foundation or Canadian Cancer Society
  • Hospitals
  • Neighbourhood Watch or Block Parent programs
  • Halfway houses, drug rehabilitation centres

Before you commit to anything, explore your options. It’s important to make sure that your volunteer position is a good fit. If possible, try to visit different organizations or attend a meeting to get a feel for the atmosphere. The more comfortable you are, the more you’ll be able to contribute, and the more satisfaction you’ll get from your volunteer work. After all, you are planning on donating your valuable time.

Don’t be afraid to ask questions so you know what is expected of you. Be clear on your time commitment. You might even want to start slowly so you can work up as your comfort level improves. If you give yourself some flexibility, you have a little more control over where you want to take your new volunteer role.

And don’t worry if things don’t work out. You can talk to the group leader about changing your position, or you can consider looking for a better fit.

Employee volunteerism strengthens and supports community

Corporate giving and employee volunteerism has becoming an integral part of corporate responsibility. There are many good reasons why companies support various local causes and encourage employees to become active volunteers in those causes.

Volunteering promotes employee health and wellness, translating into lower healthcare costs and higher productivity. Volunteering can build teamwork and time-management skills, which fosters stronger relationships with colleagues and supports professional networking. Volunteer activities lead to positive feelings toward an employer when volunteer programs are supported in the workplace.

But perhaps more importantly, employee volunteerism strengthens and supports the community that employees call home.

Western Direct encourages employees to volunteer with the groups and causes across Alberta including Canadian Cancer Society, Soup Sisters, The Calgary Interfaith Food Bank, The Calgary Humane Society, Educational Institutions and the Foothills Medical Centre. Western Direct is also proud to support local sport franchises and have corporate partnerships with the Calgary Stampeders and the Edmonton Oilers.

“We have a strong community presence. Western Direct’s roots are here. Our people live and work in communities right across the West. While our products help to protect communities, our people help to build them by supporting local groups and events that bring communities together,” says Western Direct's Chief Operating Officer, Rod Cunniam.

Volunteering is a gift straight from the heart. When you give and do good, you’ll reap benefits beyond measure.

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