Most folks have heard the adage, “It is better to give than to receive,” but in the case of volunteerism, it can also be healthier.
April 7 to April 13 is National Volunteer Week, so this is a good time to think not only about how we can help and the benefit to the community, but also the benefit the volunteer receives.
Research has concluded that volunteering not only helps the organization, it helps the individual, too. Among the benefits it can yield are better heart health, relief — at least short-term — from depression and longer life.
Think about the feelings that arise when giving someone a gift: that warm feeling of doing something for someone else. The joy of seeing someone else’s face light up can be larger even than that of the recipient, just knowing your actions have made someone else happy.
The same thing happens in volunteering. It’s called the oxytocin effect.
Oxytocin is the feel-good hormone released during childbirth and other times. It helps moms bond with their babies and lovers with each other.
“When we help others, we think that there is a release of oxytocin, and that interferes with the stress response,” said Stephanie Brown, Ph.D., associate professor of preventive medicine at Stonybrook University in New York, in an article for iVillage. And interrupting the stress response and its production of high levels of cortisol is a good way to benefit the heart.
And there’s no question volunteerism adds up to a healthier community.
“Several factors drive people into community service, but the powerful force behind volunteering is the social change that is made through the inspiration of people to make a difference to help those in need,” according to Volunteers of America.
One psychotherapist also reported that when she prescribed two hours of community service a week for patients suffering from depression, the patients returned with an elevated mood.
Two hours a week — about 100 hours a year — is the golden figure for people to realize health benefits from volunteerism.
It is important, the research notes, to find something to be passionate about. But that shouldn’t be hard. Our local communities contain so many organizations that can use volunteer help. Whether your interest is health, faith, children, art, sports, hunger, animals or something else entirely, chances are you can find a volunteer opportunity that dovetails with your passions.
Among the other individuals benefits of volunteering are that it connects you to others in your community. Volunteers make friends and contacts through their efforts. They may also learn new social and relationship skills. It may also help advance your career.
Of course, there’s no question that volunteering benefits the community. Without volunteers, organizations like Habitat for Humanity, Home at Last Humane Society, The Dalles Little League, The Dalles Civic Auditorium, the adult literacy program, Community Meal, 4-H and many more wouldn’t be able to operate.
These are only a few of the many volunteer organizations that exist within the local area.
Pick one and let your time benefit them and you.