When was the last time you volunteered to help someone? How did it make you feel? It’s easy to see the positive impact that volunteers have on others, but we don’t often consider how rewarding it can be for the volunteer themselves to reach out and make a difference in someone’s life. Here are five ways volunteering can benefit seniors or retirees:
1. Stay active and engaged with life
Health care professionals have always suspected that loneliness in seniors can cause health problems beyond depression. A review of recent research proves just how right they are. We now know social isolation increases a senior’s risk for a variety of serious health problems ranging from obesity and high blood pressure to diabetes. The good news is there are many ways older adults can stay active and engaged with life. One of them is by volunteering their time and talent to a cause they believe in. Besides being a lot of fun, volunteering has a positive impact on the mind, body and spirit.
2. Helping others makes you feel happy
According to a study from Merrill Lynch, some 70 percent of retirees say being generous provides a significant source of happiness. Most volunteers report that helping others brings them more happiness than spending money on themselves. Retirees who are active in charities also have a stronger sense of purpose and higher self-esteem. They have lower rates of depression as well as lower blood pressure and lower mortality rates.
3. Make new social connections
Another reason retirees volunteer is for the social interaction. After people stop working and their kids are gone, they lose many of the usual social connections. Volunteering helps retirees meet people with similar interests and values. Some 85 percent of retiree volunteers say they have developed new friendships through their volunteer activities the Merrill Lynch study found.
4. Have new experiences and learn new skills
Volunteering may provide you with opportunities and experiences you may not otherwise encounter. Step out and experience life – whether you decide to utilise your existing gardening skills to support a local conservation project, help out at a fundraising event for your favourite charity, or support those going through difficult times by answering calls to a helpline – you will have new experiences, meet new people and even learn new skills.
5. Change someone’s life – change your own
Volunteering provides the chance to look beyond our own circumstances and appreciate what others are experiencing. You can have a positive influence in someone’s life. The simple act of visiting someone, holding someone’s hand or offering a listening ear may seem like a small thing, but is actually quite powerful because that simple act of caring brings them immeasurable comfort, joy and encouragement. The difference that you’ll make in someone else’s life will make an even bigger difference in yours.
Bernardine Reid is responsible for volunteer training and volunteer management for Samaritans Wellington. She has been a volunteer for Samaritans for over 20 years since retiring from full time work as a careers counsellor. She sought out Samaritans as an opportunity to use some existing skills in a different setting and with an altruistic purpose and has found that the rewards listed above continue to make it all worthwhile. For more information about volunteering for Samaritans please call (04) 472 3676 or visit www.samaritans.org.nz