I'm an active volunteer in some Indian organizations such as my temple, where I help the board of directors. I’ve been wondering why volunteering is important to me. It’s not enough to contribute financially; I want to give of my time. My decision to volunteer is more than just a quest to enrich my spirituality; I have a need to help the larger com-munity and make a lasting contribution.
Why Do People Volunteer?
People who volunteer get a sense of giving back to society. This is especially true of those who feel more fortunate than others. Some people may feel guilt they have more than others or want to show gratitude for their good fortune. Volunteering is a productive way to deal with those feelings. They can channel their gratitude or guilty feelings into improving the lives of others.
Some people may find that volunteering is a way to cope with life’s traumas. The parents of a child stricken with cancer may invest their extra time and energy in organizations that deal with childhood cancer. Others choose to contribute their time to causes they believe in and care about such as keeping our planet healthy or putting food on the table for underprivileged children.
People who volunteer have a greater sense of accomplishment. They work toward larger goals.
For example, those who become involved with Red Cross or Habitat for Humanity touch goals that are bigger than their own worlds.
The Benefits of Volunteering
Doctors Without Borders is a good example of a volunteer effort that gives as much as it demands. Participants travel to places they may never have expected to see. They get an insider’s view of a culture or sub-culture, leading to a better under-standing of the world around them. Volunteers can learn a new language or make friends in distant countries. While reaching out to help others, the experience both expands their intellectual horizons and enriches their lives.
Volunteerism gives some people the opportunity for healing. Actress Jenny McCarthy-Wahlberg made autism awareness her life’s work after her child was diagnosed with autism. Volunteering is an avenue for coping, healing, and regaining a sense of control when our lives feel out of our control. Many people volunteer after losing a loved one to a specific illness. By working for causes that are close to our heart, we can honor our loved one while working to improve the future for the next generation.
Volunteerism fosters a sense of teamwork. Pulling together towards one goal helps develop a shared camaraderie and team spirit.
For many people who have lost their jobs in the current climate, volunteerism offers an opportunity to network, hone their skills, develop new skills, and step into leadership roles. Volunteering can sometimes lead to a job or a change in one’s career path.
People who are lonely or disenfranchised from society can connect with others through volunteering.
It provides a special forum to meet and interact with people who share similar values. Many retired seniors find that volunteering gives them a sense of purpose within the community. Volunteerism opens the door for recognition and provides volunteers with a sense of well-being.
Volunteerism and Keeping a Balance
There are benefits to volunteering, but you should only volunteer if you have a compelling belief in the cause and a desire to give your time. Some people tend to say yes to everything. You can’t help anybody if you don’t help yourself. Set limits to your time and don’t be afraid to say no if you feel you can’t accomplish what is asked of you. Most organizations would rather you say no, than sign up for too much and fail to come through.
Look at your time availability and abilities before you plan to volunteer. If your job is demanding, you may want to spend your volunteer time with lighter duties such as stuffing envelopes. Or you may want to challenge yourself and reach for a larger goal. Whatever you decide, plan out the time you are willing to devote to volunteering, the duties you are willing to take on, and the causes that are closest to your heart. Then, jump in with both feet! You’ll be glad you did!
*Names have been changed to protect privacy. This article is for educational purposes only. It is not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychiatric issue. Dr. Rakesh Ranjan is a practicing psychiatrist, a researcher, an author, and an educator. He has been recognized by Ohio NAMI (National Alliance for the Mentally Ill) as a recipient of the Psychiatrist of the Year Award, and by National NAMI as a recipient of the Exemplary Psychiatrist Award. Dr. Ranjan is a national speaker for several organizations and serves on the medical advisory board for the NAMI of Greater Cleveland. Please email your questions to Dr. Ranjan at askthedoctor@ charakcenter.com Each week, he will address some of these questions in this column. All contact information will be kept confidential.