Volunteering: Why Helping Others Helps You Too

This post is by Ali Luke of Aliventures.

Does it ever seem like you’re lacking something in your life? Maybe you feel that everyone takes you for granted at work, or that you never have a chance to try anything new. Perhaps you’re in a bit of a rut and want to shake things up a bit. Or maybe you need to develop certain skills in order to go after a particular dream.

You don’t need to do anything as drastic as quitting your day job, going back to college or buying a round-the-world plane ticket. You can change your own life for the better—by helping other people.

The feel-good factor

Doing something nice for other people tends to make you feel good.

That’s not something to be a bit uncomfortable about—it’s just human nature. We’re hard-wired for altruism.

People become much happier after providing for others rather than themselves. The smallest gifts can quickly result in surprisingly large and long-lasting changes in happiness. A few pounds spent on other people may be one of the best investments you ever make.

—Professor Richard Wiseman, 59 Seconds: Think a little, Change a Lot

Next time you’re feeling a bit down or fed up, look for some way to do something in a voluntary capacity. That might be anything from helping a charity to get their website and Twitter feed set up, to helping out with a local children’s group.

Learning new skills

If you’re looking to change careers—or just learn something new for the fun of it—then volunteering could be a great way forwards. You won’t need to pay for classes: you can get practical, hands-on experience from day one.

This is particularly valuable if you’re trying to plug a gap in your resume. For instance, many jobs want you to have previous “office experience”—and there are plenty of charities and non-profits which would be more than happy to have you helping out in their office once or twice a week.

Volunteering can give you “hard” skills (specific expertise, such as knowing how to network computers) but also “soft” skills which employers particularly value (transferable skills like leadership and managing a team).

Finding meaning

Do you ever feel as though there’s not much point to what you’re doing? Perhaps you have a job that doesn’t really engage you, and the rest of your life seems to be taken up with chores and watching television.

Volunteering will give you a very obvious purpose. You’ll be able to see how just a couple of hours of your time can make a huge difference to other people. And, usually, you’ll find yourself in contact with lots of like-minded volunteers all working to make a difference in the world. It’s a great way to feel more optimistic about life!

Over the past few months, I’ve been giving my time and skills to various groups close to my heart. I’ve done things as varied as these:

  • I created a PowerPoint presentation for our church, telling them about the work done by a small charity we support. (I learnt how to do all sorts of useful things in PowerPoint that I’d not known about before.)
  • I wrote a booklet about the charity. (This was a bit outside my comfort zone as a writer, and definitely got me thinking hard about how to convey quite complex information in a succinct and engaging way.)
  • I helped with our church’s annual Holiday Club for five–twelve-year-olds. (I do this every year, and absolutely love it—a great week’s break from the usual blogging routine!)
  • I run a small stall to sell charity goods. (This has pushed me out of my introvert comfort-zone, and helped me see exactly how people make buying decisions—very useful for my own sales of ebooks and digital products.)

Of course, your particular skills and interests will be different from mine. But I know that you’ve got a lot which you could give, and that there are dozens of organizations which would love to have your help.

A couple of places to get started are:

If you’re already doing volunteer work, tell us in the comments what you love most about it.

Ali Luke blogs about writing and life over at Aliventures and has a free ebook called More For Your Money, about getting your best value from your hard-earned cash.

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  1. Your mind cannot hold two thoughts simultaneously.

    In the moment you are helping, serving, and focusing on someone other than yourself, you are incapable of thinking of yourself. Unhappiness is only possible when you are consumed with your own lack, want, problems, or needs. Therefore, unhappiness is a selfish emotion.

    When you shift the focus of your life from what you are lacking, need, or don’t have – to a mission, purpose, or work that is in the service of others, you loose yourself in that work, you wont have to look for happiness – happiness will find you!

  2. I couldn’t agree more. I’ve been an active volunteer most of my life. It kept my skills up while I was a SAHM and I met great friends through it. Not to mention the warm feeling you get doing something for someone else. You do get back more than you give. What a fantastic world we would live in if everyone occassionally reached out to someone in need. Wonderful site! I look forward to reading it.

  3. As one who has struggled for years with low level depression, volunteering is definitely a way to take my focus off my issues and onto someone else. And usually the someone I am helping is worse off in many ways than I am, so that helps to give me an attitude adjustment!
    I have older teens and adults and we have worked to be sure they have had opportunities to give back. It helps form their view of the world around them and keeps them from focusing on themselves all the time.

  4. I totally agree with this, Ali. The paradox of life is that the more you give, the more you get.

  5. Hello friends, its wonderful post concerning cultureand entirely explained,
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