Wellness

The Surprising Side-Effects of Giving Back to Your Community

Community and wellness connections

The connection between positive relationships, a supportive community, and well-being is well-studied and indisputable. Belongingness is an essential human need, a core pillar of longevity and as important to wellness as a healthy diet and regular physical activity. Being part of something bigger than ourselves, such as through volunteering, is a win-win for everyone involved. 

 

Humans have lived in social groups for thousands of years, and survival was and still is inextricably linked to the quality of our social connections with friends, family members, and our community at large. A report examining the effects of human interactions on health outcomes found that social connections improved the odds of survival by 50%, and low social interaction had a similar impact to smoking 15 cigarettes a day and being an alcoholic.¹


So, needless to say, we need each other. 

 

The Science Behind Altruism and Volunteering

Multiple studies suggest that when we help others, we, in reward, become more resilient to adversity, more capable of coping with life challenges, more adept at regulating our emotions, and better suited to mitigating the detrimental effects of stress.² Dr. Adam Grant, author of “Give and Take: A Revolutionary Approach to Success,” writes about how having a sense of purpose and giving support to others has a significant impact on our well-being. He also expresses, through research, it appears that one of the best antidotes to anxiety is generosity.³ 

 

In the 1980s, the concept of “the helper’s high” started getting a lot of traction in the scientific community. This sensation is marked by “elation, exhilaration, and increased energy, then a period of calm and serenity” following selfless service to others. Researchers later discovered that there is actually a biochemical component of this psychological state—the helper’s high is accompanied by positive changes in the body’s immune function and the lowering of stress hormones.⁴ 

 

Surveys have demonstrated a decline in social connections, though. Based on results from the 2021 American Perspective Survey, 49% of Americans reported having three friends or fewer, and 12% reported having zero close friends or anyone they could confide in.⁵ There are innumerable reasons why we are connecting less and less deeply—but the good news is, reconnecting isn’t as hard as it might seem, even if you’ve been socially isolated for a while. One way to find social connections and create an opportunity to make new friends is through community involvement and volunteering. 

 

16 Ways to Get Involved with Your Community 

Opportunities to get involved and volunteer your time to improve your community and the lives of others are numerous. The first step to finding a well-suited opportunity is to ask yourself some preliminary questions, such as: 


  • What are your goals for volunteering? (i.e., improve your neighborhood, make new friends, try something new, do something rewarding, etc.)

  • Do you prefer to work with children, adults, or animals?

  • What causes are important to you?

  • Do you prefer to be behind the scenes or have a leadership-type role?

  • How much time do you have to commit?

  • What skills can you bring to a volunteer organization?

 

Once you have determined your volunteer goals and interests, you can start searching for organizations and opportunities that align with your search criteria. Websites like volunteer.gov and idealist.org are great places to start a search. 

 

Different ways to volunteer include, but are not limited to: 

 

  1. Working at an animal shelter

  2. Volunteering as a mentor to a child or an adult 

  3. Teaming up with a youth club or after-school program 

  4. Tutoring students 

  5. Spending time at a retirement home

  6. Participating in a community beautification project

  7. Joining a beach or park clean up

  8. Serving in a soup kitchen 

  9. Volunteering at a food bank before/during the holidays

  10. Organizing a holiday food or gift drive 

  11. Helping out at a homeless shelter

  12. Taking part in a community garden 

  13. Working with a home construction and improvement organization (e.g., Habitat for Humanity)

  14. Supporting the Red Cross and other humanitarian relief organizations 

  15. Collecting and donating things for community members in need (e.g., backpacks, school supplies, non-perishable food items)

  16. Running in a charity race


Health, Happiness, and a Helping Hand

Getting involved in your local community is a decision that comes with both immediate and long-lasting benefits for you, those you help, and your community at large!

Resources: 

  1. Martino, J., Pegg, J., & Frates, E. P. (2015, October 7). The connection prescription: Using the power of social interactions and the deep desire for connectedness to empower health and Wellness. American journal of lifestyle medicine. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from PubMed Central 

  2. Parker-Pope, T. (2020, April 9). The science of helping out. The New York Times. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from nytimes.com 

  3. Martino, J., Pegg, J., & Frates, E. P. (2015, October 7). The connection prescription: Using the power of social interactions and the deep desire for connectedness to empower health and Wellness. American journal of lifestyle medicine. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from PubMed Central

  4. Dossey, L. (2018, October 23). The helper's high. EXPLORE. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from sciencedirect.com

  5. Cox, D. A., Orrell, B., & Bowman, K. (2022, April 7). The State of American Friendship: Change, challenges, and loss. The Survey Center on American Life. Retrieved November 14, 2022, from americansurveycenter.org