Eric was devastated when his wife, Cathy, died from pancreatic cancer. He isolated himself in their home and spent all day looking at her things and grieving. Finally, one of his friends from church talked him into spending one night a week volunteering at a soup kitchen. Eric quickly discovered that helping people who were down on their luck made his own loss seem more bearable. He made friends with the people who came to the kitchen and with the other volunteers, and soon he was involved in several other community projects.

Eric’s experience is not atypical. Many people who start out wanting to help others end up doing good for themselves as well. There are numerous benefits to volunteering.

Emotional

Volunteering can boost your mood in many ways. It can give you a sense of pride, self-confidence, and identity. It can provide an avenue for learning new skills and a chance to use your own unique talents to benefit others. Additionally, volunteering can take your mind off of your own troubles, a welcome respite if you’re dealing with traumatic life events.

Finally, if you’re depressed, volunteering might actually lift your mood. Social isolation is one of the biggest risk factors for depression and doing most types of volunteer work requires you to interact with others.

Spiritual

Even people who claim no religious affiliation still wonder about the big questions like whether or not our existence has a purpose and how we should relate to fellow human beings. Volunteering is a good way to begin to seek answers to these age-old questions.

Whether you’re coaching a soccer program for under-privileged youth or helping to tend a community garden, the work offers you a sense of purpose and a chance to reach out and have a positive influence on the lives of others. This kind of connectedness can enhance your spiritual well-being.

Social

When you volunteer, you touch many lives and, in turn, many lives touch yours. You will probably feel deeply connected with other volunteers as well as with the people you are helping. You may also find that your ties to your community have been strengthened. If you have just moved to a new area, volunteering is a wonderful way to gain a foothold in your new community. Volunteering may also lead to other social opportunities. For instance, you and the people you volunteer with may decide to get together to share coffee or a meal when your work is done.

Physical

A recent study found that adolescents who volunteered regularly with elementary school children had better cardiovascular health than those who did not volunteer. The researchers also found that volunteers who showed the biggest increases in empathy, mental health, and altruism also showed the greatest increases in physical health. Similar results have been found for adult volunteers. Adults who volunteer, for instance, have a lower mortality rate than those who do not.

There’s no doubt about it, you can enhance and improve the lives of others by becoming a volunteer. The beauty of altruism is that when you give of yourself, you can enrich your own life as well.

Doug Sprinter is a freelancer focusing on travel, volunteering, The Peace Corps, tourism, outdoor activities, sports and other kindred subjects. To learn more watch the ARCC videos.

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