Emotional Intelligence – Yoga For The Mind

5 Undeniably Selfish Reasons to Volunteer

volunteering, emotional intelligence, anabel jensenVolunteering is a necessity!

Service to others should, in my opinion, take multiple forms – from the needs in our schools to the needs of the community, nation, even to the world. We simply can’t volunteer enough to fix the problems of our world. There is much to do.

Interestingly, in my experience over the years, I’ve noticed that those who serve reap benefits far greater than the cost of serving. It truly is a win-win situation.

Balancing the budget

One year I needed $80,000 to balance my school’s budget. The school benefit was coming up, an important day, because we were relying on it to generate the sum needed.

The volunteer staff had put in thousands of hours to pull off the event. They’d created an intriguing theme supported by unique invitations and decorations; solicited for gifts for the live auction, the silent auction and the raffle. They’d written and edited the catalog, sold advertisements in it, enticed friends and neighbors to come along and support the event, decorated tables. The list went on and on…

Finally the event came around. And what an event it was. The food was delicious, spirits were high and people were generous. The budget was saved for another year and Karen Stone-McCown and I could sleep at night.

But if it weren’t for our marvelous volunteers we would have been tossing and turning. Dark circles would have appeared under our eyes, school doors may have had to close.

Volunteering brings its own rewards

Our gratitude to our volunteers is immense – for the hours they put in, for the gifts they offer. Yet the benefits don’t all run one way. There are rewards for those serving, too. For example, a summer student, Jonathan Herback wrote in his journal,

After doing 30 hours of community service, I want to do more. It is an addictive experience. Once you do a little, you want to do a lot more because it reminds you how thankful you should be for what you have, yet it also makes you feel good for helping others. If everybody in the world gave one day of community service, the world would be a better place.

So what are the reasons we should offer our services for free? In a world that runs on capitalism and mostly free markets, where the rich and famous seemingly rule, what would possess us to do something for nothing?

Reason #1. Thankfulness. It is an undeniable fact that when we provide service to others we appreciate our gifts in life far more. Volunteer work has been found to enhance five aspects of personal well-being: happiness, life satisfaction, sense of control over life, physical health, and positive mood (Thoits and Hewitt, 2001). Those who engage in shared tasks such as community service feel greater life satisfaction, personal control, vitality, and social support later in life (Harlow and Cantor, 1996). Our lives are brought into perspective and we are able to see our advantages. We become more satisfied with our lives. The peace of mind that emanates from that sense of thankfulness is worth all the effort and other costs that go into volunteering. It is priceless and what I think we all strive for at some level.

Reason #2: Problem-solving. Of course, we serve to meet a need that isn’t otherwise met. The fundraising committees are committed to raising funds not gathered elsewhere. The clean-up committee is focused on improving our campuses and work environments. The ‘green’ committees are intent on improving our sustainable practices for the betterment of our planet and future generations. These problems aren’t magicked out of nowhere. They are real problems that need fixing and if it weren’t for volunteers they wouldn’t get solved. Acts of service from volunteerism fill enormous holes in our daily lives and our lives would not be as rich as they are.

Reason #3: Self-esteem. Research has shown that service improves self-esteem of students when they enter the workforce (Higgs, 2005) and certainly the skills volunteerism helps build and the perspective it provides give all of us a shot in the arm when it comes to improving our self-worth. Providing an act of service can put us on an emotional “high” for far longer than the hours of service we put in and for that reason alone it is worth doing, in my opinion.

Reason #4: Community building. Volunteering throws us together with others, often strangers, in pursuit of a common cause. It strengthens our investment in that cause and in those people. We make connections, broaden our support networks, expose ourselves to preciously unknown resources, and complete fun and fulfilling activities. Friendships are made, memories created.

Reason #5: Skill development. How often have you done something for the first time as a volunteer? Often, I’ll bet. I know I have. Volunteering is a great way to learn a new skill, practice an existing one and, especially for women who’ve spent time away from the workplace raising a family, reminding ourselves how good our skills are. The world needs more people with diverse skills, I think. Serving is a great way to develop and hone them!


The day after the school benefit, I head off to the city with my son at 6:30am. He is working on a project to examine more closely the homeless issues in the Bay Area. As we drive through the city and snap pictures in a variety of places, there is a fog in our minds: not of mist but of bewilderment.

How has this happened in a supposed land of plenty? What can be done to change this? Why do the children have to suffer for the choices of their parents? And what can I do to change this?

If each of us gives even two or three hours a week, I know that problems can be solved and lives can be changed. As Bob Dylan sings:

Might like to eat caviar; you might like to eat bread.

Maybe sleepin’ on the floor, sleeping in a king-size bed

….but you gotta serve somebody.

I agree with him. Do you?

In what ways have you served your community? How has it enriched your life? Tell us in the comments!

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