Photo: CTN Instructor Sabrina Tam helps an older adult learner with his tablet.
Some days, the news cycle and its global tragedies are overwhelming. It can be difficult to discern one’s role in the world when so many things seem to be going wrong. We want to help but don’t know how. We want to feel hopeful but often feel uncertain. While such feelings might drive us to distractions or binge-watching, research shows that helping others may be the best antidote.
In 2018, professor Laurie Santos began teaching a course at Yale called “The Psychology of the Good Life.” The class quickly became one of the most popular courses in Yale’s 320-year history, with over 1,200 students in one session. In the course, students learn different science-backed strategies for feeling good. One of these strategies? Help others to help yourself.
“The intuition that helping others is the key to our well-being right now fits with science,” Santos says in an article for NBC. “There’s lots of research showing that spending our time and money on other people can often make us happier than spending that same time or money on ourselves. … Taking time to do something nice for someone else is a powerful strategy for improving our well-being.”
As Dr. Santos points out, giving to others can double as a gift to ourselves. Volunteering helps us cultivate a sense of community with those around us and strengthens our sense of connection. It helps us gain a sense of purpose and accomplishment — a feeling hard to come by while doom-scrolling.
Volunteering also has a profound effect on our physical and mental health. An analysis of data from the Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender, and physical health. Volunteering has also been shown to reduce stress levels and even lower blood pressure, according to Harvard Health.
It is clear that volunteering is an invaluable experience, both to ourselves and the organizations we serve. Did you know that the current estimated national value of each volunteer hour is $28.54? Across the U.S., the total economic value of volunteer contributions comes out to over $160 billion a year.
As these stats make clear, the countless hours of service provided by volunteers directly stretch the value of funding and donations to small nonprofits. While there is no shortage of amazing organizations in need of fresh volunteers, the important thing is finding the right opportunity for you.