At some point in life, you may well have stumbled upon a version of this ancient, Chinese proverb:
If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap.
If you want happiness for a day, go fishing.
If you want happiness for a month, get married.
If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune.
If you want happiness for a lifetime, help others.
Although it’s impossible to know the true source of this quote, it’s distinctly not impossible to note that there’s truth within the wisdom and the sentiment expressed so succinctly. Positive Psychology research conducted over the last decade or so has, in many ways, provided credible support for the basic tenets of this proverb.
Rest and pleasure and wealth (and, of course, a number of other variables) can indubitably contribute in different ways to different forms of happiness; albeit often short-term forms of happiness and positive emotion. But real and meaningful happiness, deeper and longer lasting versions of life satisfaction, thriving and flourishing, are more likely to come not from what we do for ourselves but rather, what we do for others.
In support of this, it’s been well established in many health and wellbeing studies over many years now that “other people matter”. Most importantly, what matters most is what we do for other people. And one of the most effective and fulfilling activities in which we can engage, that provides benefits for us and others, is volunteering.
Volunteering can be defined as the act of freely offering to do something; without any expectation of pay or remuneration; it involves time willingly given, most usually for the common good. Accordingly, volunteering offers vital services and support to those in need; often those most disadvantaged in the community.
But in addition, volunteering offers just as many if not more benefits to the giver. It’s been said that “in giving we receive” and there’s no doubt that those who give through volunteer activities receive benefits such as increased happiness and satisfaction, greater meaning and purpose, lower levels of stress and depression, and even a greater sense of connection and belonging. Volunteers often become part of a volunteering community; something that’s incredibly valuable!
So if you’re looking to make a difference or contribute to a meaningful cause; to find a space where you can enjoy meaningful conversations and feel good about doing good; to connect with others who share similar values and perspectives then volunteering may well be the best activity for you. It’s a mood booster and anti-depressant; and it’s a way of helping others while also helping yourself.
But one thing many people don’t realise is that there are many different ways to give; and what’s important is to find a way that works best for you. Volunteering might not provide all the benefits it could if you’re not giving what you most want to give to a cause you most want to give to.
And giving time is only one of many gifts; giving can obviously include the gift of time but also the giving of services, wisdom, expertise or even money. The question is, “what’s the best way for YOU to give?” If you can match your gift with the needs of the organisation or community to whom you’re contributing, then everyone wins and wins well. And wouldn’t that make for a wonderful world!