Blog Post for TEDxPiscataquaRiver


It is easy to stay in one’s comfort zone, and within the social network of friends and family, we’ve known for ages or met through the safe walls of a church, sports, school, work, or other friends and family.  However, if you live your life like a first-week college or prep school freshman, attached at the hip of your new dorm mate, then you will miss out on a world of learning and opportunity to help yourself and others.

If I told you that you could improve your happiness by helping others and it wouldn’t cost you a cent, what would you think? You won’t be taking away money from your rent, groceries, car, or student loan payments by volunteering. And depending on where you volunteer, you may get some perks such as free meals here and there, which means you are saving money while bonding with the other strangers as brave as you. You can put in as much or as little time as you like; that’s one of the beautiful parts of being a volunteer.

Working without pay may sound unappealing and, for some, look like a deal-breaker on the surface. But, allow me to explain some of the hidden perks:

1.   Personal Benefits:

a.   Activity – any movement is good because it helps us deal with stress, which helps us live longer.

b.   Social – meet new people, connect with shared goals, positive social interactions (touch, smiles, eye contact) help us bond and care for others, and manage stress better.

c.    Feeling – doing something for others makes us feel better about ourselves. It improves our self-esteem and happiness, which leads to living longer.

d.   Community – if you are new to an area or your friends have moved away volunteering is a great way to get involved in your community to meet people

2.   Professional Benefits:

a.   Networking – if you are unemployed, volunteering is a great way to collaborate on a project and show others your skills, personality and build connections that could lead to employment outside of the charity project you are helping on.

b.   Honing – Volunteering allows us to keep our skills sharp. Sometimes we don’t get to do things we love during the workdays that we used to do at previous jobs or while in school.

c.    Learning – Volunteering allows us to learn new skills for free.

d.   Transferable – The skills you learn and use volunteering can be put on your LinkedIn or resume because the unpaid work provides experience and volunteering always looks good on the resume. 

In today’s fast-paced techno consumer world, we can sometimes forget to stop and smell the roses, to play with our pets, to get out in nature, and leave our laptops, tablets, and phones at home. For some of us, we can easily fall into the just one more thing Portlandia like-loop, and unless we snap out of it. Then we become less productive, exhausted, and unhappy, and even downright miserable without also being aware that it’s happening. It can make a drastic change like #VanLife seem less romantic and more ideal because we have become used to the rut but don’t know how to change. If you need a sign, this sentence is it. You, yes, you. What were you passionate about when you were eleven years old? Do you still make time for your hobbies and passions? What is stopping you? Is it money? If it’s money, then is there an organization that you can volunteer with so you can do what you love for free? For years, I wanted to take surfing lessons and return to the slopes on a snowboard what was holding me back was my massive student loan debts and high rent and other debts and bills. Finally, a friend suggested getting involved with a new organization where I could donate some of my time to help others while also getting to go surfing and snowboarding for 20-25% of the regular prices. Surfing and volunteering have made a world of difference in my life.

More and more recent studies are showing that the people who live the longest and are the happiest are not the richest. They are the ones that mediate, laugh, and are involved in their communities; they place family and or friends over wealth and stuff. They care for other people. So, why not gather your friends and family to volunteer with you in your community and reap the benefits together or join solely and meet strangers who may become good friends in time?

Watch the talks below and get inspired:

  1. How Volunteerism Can Change Your World – Joyce Bertram
  1. What Volunteering Taught Me – Hajira Khan
  1. Volunteerism: Best Platform for Personal and Professional Development – Tuan Nguyen 
  1. Micro-Volunteering – Giving Back for Busy People – Ben Rigby

Some places to start volunteering:

  • Volunteer Match

  • Great NonProfits

  • Idealist
  • Hands-on Network

  • Your Local Tedx

  • Volunteering with Seniors

  • Volunteers of America