The Benefits of Volunteering
15 January, 2021
It was Gandhi who said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.” And it turns out, he was onto something – there are some real scientific benefits that come when you give up your time to help someone in need.
Believe it or not, humans are one of the most altruistic species in existence, which explains why so many of us give up our time to volunteer. Volunteering is a kind of ‘prosocial behaviour’ (ie. when you do something that benefits others, or society as a whole) and there are a bunch of evolutionary theories that suggest how this came to be – natural selection, for example, suggests that without helping others, even those who aren’t our kin, has benefited our survival as a species.
But why does it feel so good to do good to others, beyond just our basic instincts? Well, as Tania McMahon from Benchmark Psychology explains, there is a lot of research to suggest that prosocial behaviours are strongly linked to positive mood.
“In a well-known study at Harvard University, it was found that participants assigned to spend money on others experienced greater positive feelings than those assigned to spend money on themselves,” Tania explains. “The relationship is self-reinforcing as well – helping others makes you feel good, but feeling good also makes you want to help others more.”
Research also shows that prosocial behaviours like volunteering can have a positive impact on self-esteem, life satisfaction and our overall mental health. A number of current psychological therapies focus on helping clients take action to pursue activities that align with their own personal values, to help improve their wellbeing and help them live a more rich and meaningful life.
“Volunteering provides a unique opportunity to connect with ones’ values, no matter what they might be,” Tania says. “For example, someone who values music and the arts might volunteer at a community theatre; someone who values nutrition and healthy food might volunteer in a kitchen providing food for the homeless; someone who values social connection and helping others might volunteer as a mentor for a youth group.”
So, it seems that when you volunteer, you don’t just do good unto others – you do yourself some good, too.
Here are a few of our favourite places to get involved, chip in and give back: