The Surprising Psychological Benefits of Volunteering

Two senior ladies work together as they volunteer their time at a local Food Bank.

If you’ve ever volunteered, you’ve probably experienced that feeling of satisfaction and happiness that comes with giving your time, experience, or talent to help others. 

If you’ve never volunteered, you’re missing out on some amazing psychological benefits. And there is plenty of research that supports the mental health benefits of volunteering. Those include increased functioning, quality of life, pride, empowerment, motivation, and sense of community. What’s more, some research even suggests that volunteering may be associated with reduced mortality. Here’s a closer look at the proven benefits of volunteering.

Reduces loneliness and isolation

Isolation and loneliness are significant problems for many people, especially older adults. Loneliness during the holiday season can be particularly hard. And everyone—from solo agers to long-married couples—can feel lonely.  

Volunteering provides opportunities to socialize and meet a variety of people, and the holidays are one of the best times to do it. Adopting a needy family, helping serve meals, and similar projects can help a senior feel more involved. On the other hand, if you know of a senior who might be lonely during the holidays, consider inviting them over for tea or a meal. You’ll also benefit from adding a little holiday cheer to your own life.

Enhances one’s sense of purpose

“The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others,” said Mahatma Gandhi.  One of the most rewarding aspects of volunteering is the sense of purpose it gives you. Knowing that you’re helping others can improve your self-esteem and provide a sense of meaning in your life.

Reduces anxiety and depression

Volunteering can enable you to focus on the needs of others, taking your mind off your problems and worries. The shift in focus and the release of emotion-boosting endorphins that are released from feelings of happiness and acts of kindness can reduce stress and anxiety.

In addition, a reduction in stress further reduces the risk of chronic physical conditions such as hypertension, stroke, and heart disease.

Improves self-esteem

When you volunteer, you gain a sense of accomplishment and self-worth. Using talents and skills you haven’t used in a while, completing tasks to help others, and seeing the positive impact of your actions can boost your self-esteem and confidence.

How to get started

Volunteering can be even more rewarding when you connect with a cause close to your heart. Whether it’s walking for breast cancer to honor a friend with the disease, using your love of animals to foster an abandoned dog, or helping disadvantaged kids, you can always find an organization that needs your help. 

Here are a few places to check in your community:

  • Women’s shelters
  • Senior living communities
  • Hospitals
  • Libraries and museums
  • Animal rescue organizations
  • Homeless shelters

If you’ve never volunteered or haven’t in a while, remember that you’re not just helping others; you’re receiving invaluable psychological benefits in return.