The benefits of volunteering
What are the benefits of volunteering?
Volunteering is an essential element of a virtual cycle of happiness, wealth and meaning.
It brings multiple benefits to both the giver and the recipient.
Each year I join a pilgrimage to Lourdes. Some 250 of us from all over the world care for, accompany, comfort and look after around 80 sick and disabled people. It’s an exhausting week and probably one of the most fulfilling weeks of my year.
The philosophy of volunteering
There are two fundamental philosophical reasons why volunteering can be so fulfilling. The first is that, generally, it is aways better to give than to receive. Humans are a social species, hardwired for connection. It’s only recently that the individual has become more important than the community.
However, that sense of community which involving helping our fellow humans, looking out for our neighbours, joining together for protection and entertainment, is still there. This means that giving is part of your essential human nature. In truth, what you call ‘volunteering’ today was a way of life for most cultures and communities for many millennia before today. So by volunteering, you lock into your primal instincts for connection.
The other philosophical principle is to do with happiness. Most philosophers would agree that you achieve greater happiness by accepting what you have than getting more of what you want. Volunteering is, perhaps, a chance to accept that you are what you are and what you have is enough. Your focus switches from yourself to other people. Your own life, for a while, fades into the background and you forget about your personal desire for more time, more money, better job satisfaction or whatever else you feel you don’t have enough of at the moment.
This is particularly true if your voluntary work consists of looking after others who are disadvantaged in some way. They may be physically, financially or emotionally less well off than you.
Volunteering is an essential element of a virtual cycle happiness, wealth and meaning. When you are happy you are more inclined to help your neighbour. When you volunteer, you use a lifetime of experience and skills. You find meaning in your life by making a difference to others without reference to any personal benefits – well, financial benefits at least.
Benefits of volunteering
In fact, volunteering offers many benefits both to you and those you help. These include:
- Personal satisfaction
- An increased sense of your wellbeing and self-worth
- Making a difference by improving the lives of others
- Identifying and using your transferable skills and experience
- Personal growth and development through new experiences, new people, and possibly new places
- Connection with people outside your social or work circle: integration into new communities
- Gaining a better self-understanding
- A chance to have fun with co-volunteers and donees
- An opportunity to test yourself against new standards
When its all over…
Of course, volunteering isn’t all about the big stuff. The little things matter as well. I get great satisfaction from my annual pilgrimage. However, I got as much satisfaction last week, qualitatively, from helping an elderly lady and her bags down from the train at York Station.
That in its own way is now an instinctive reaction developed from my work at Lourdes, and highlights the greatest benefit of volunteering, which is to bring what you learn back home and put it into practice everyday in you normal working life.
This post has been adapted from Jeremy Deedes’ original answer to a question on asked by a Quora member.
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