Giving Back is Good for You

Healthy Living

December 1, 2020

As we enter into the season of generosity and good cheer, making a difference for others may move to the forefront of your mind. Charitable acts make the world a better place to live. They also help you become a better person — in heart, mind and body.

This holiday season might be the perfect opportunity to find a new volunteering opportunity and turn it into a lifestyle of service.

Giving to others makes you feel good, but it’s more than just the warm fuzzies. Being charitable can actually improve your health.

Researchers have found the following physical and mental health benefits of helping others:

  • Reduced stress levels
  • Lower rates of anxiety or depression
  • Higher self-esteem
  • Increased physical activity
  • Lower blood pressure
  • Longer life
  • Positive perception of personal wellbeing

Whether you want to give back through hands-on work, awareness campaigns, political advocacy, fundraising, or donations of money and other resources, your efforts will make a difference for you and others.

Where to Give Back

You’ll find volunteering and donating more satisfying if you choose an outlet that aligns with your interests and values. In other words, do good where it means the most to you.

The happier you are with your activities, the more meaningful they will be for you and for the people you help. Plus, you’ll be less likely to develop resentment or burnout over your involvement.

Opportunities for giving back abound, so there’s sure to be at least one idea out there that resounds with you. 

The suggestions below can get you started, but don’t give up if none of them are quite right. Keep exploring until you find a service option that brings you satisfaction. Both you and those you help will benefit.

Animal Shelters

If furry friends are your favorite, then consider a pet-focused organization you can partner with. As you lend a hand to dogs and cats, you may also build relationships with people who share your love for animals.

Ways to help: 

  • Your local animal shelter may need you to play with the animals, clean kennels or staff an adoption event. 
  • You can donate food or toys, or you could organize a supply drive to encourage your friends to make donations as well. 
  • If opening your house to animals in need is an option, consider fostering pets before they go to their forever homes.

There’s also evidence that hanging out with animals can reduce your blood pressure and your level of stress hormones. Plus, walking dogs can be great exercise.

Blood Drives

Each day, hospitals rely on having adequate supplies of red blood cells, plasma and platelets. Medical facilities in the U.S. go through about 36,000 units of red blood cells daily.

Without generous donors, the store of blood resources would dry up fast. Each time you donate blood, you could potentially save up to three lives.

Ways to help: 

  • You can give blood every 56 days. At the end of your donation appointment, go ahead and schedule your next visit for eight weeks down the road. 
  • If you want to get involved between appointments, you could volunteer to assist with a blood drive or organize a collection drive through your workplace, community-based agency or place of worship. 
  • Don’t forget to spread the word about blood donation among your friends and family. The more people who give, the better!

Blood donation saves lives. The more people who donate blood, the better the chance that there will be resources on hand when you or someone you love needs help.

Senior Centers

Life can get pretty lonely for many older people, but you can provide comfort and companionship. In return for your service, you may enjoy some of the stories and wisdom that older generations have to share.

Ways to help: 

  • Retirement homes and senior day centers may want visitors who can play games with residents or perform music for them. 
  • If you have elderly neighbors, you could offer to help with tasks like grocery shopping and yard maintenance. 
  • For times when you can’t show up in person, think about sending handwritten notes to residents of a local long-term care facility or dropping off an assortment of puzzles or personal-care items.

Volunteering among other people helps build your social connections. Loneliness is associated with depression, so forming new friendships may improve your mental health.

Environmental Organizations

We all share this planet, so it’s up to all of us to take care of it. Conservation efforts can help make the world a better place for you, your children and the generations to follow.

Ways to help: 

  • Many significant environmental decisions are made at the government level. To get involved and lend support for environmental efforts, call your politicians to advocate for specific policies or donate to lobbying organizations. 
  • If you want to be more hands-on with your efforts, consider planting a backyard garden with native flora, cleaning up nearby parks or tending a patch of land at a local nature preserve.

Time spent in nature is associated with better physical and mental health. The benefits include lower risks of heart disease, diabetes and depression.

Food Programs

Food insecurity affects 15% of Americans who live in rural communities and 11.8% of those who live in cities and suburbs. Although government programs do make a difference, many people need additional assistance from community food programs.

Ways to help: 

  • These organizations depend on generous donations from the community. You could give financial support or drop off canned goods. 
  • Food banks may need volunteers to sort donations and distribute them to needy families. And soup kitchens often rely on community members to cook and serve daily meals. 
  • Volunteering in a community garden is another way to help alleviate food insecurity.

Providing nutritious meals to people in need will help improve the overall wellbeing of your community. The effects, which may include lower rates of crime or disease, can ripple down to everyone who lives there.

Youth Agencies

Kids and teens, especially those in at-risk situations, need influential adults in their lives. If you have a heart for young people, then schools, daycares and community agencies can be great places to direct your giving efforts.

Ways to help: 

  • There’s a lot of hands-on work that goes into caring for kids. Local organizations may need volunteers who can read to children, serve as mentors, provide homework help or teach life-skills courses. 
  • If you can’t be there in person, perhaps you could prepare craft kits at home. 
  • When you’re cleaning out your closets, think about donating toys, clothes and other kid-friendly items that are in good condition.

Sharing your knowledge with young people can be good for your brain. As you instruct others, you’ll keep your skills fresh and your mind sharp.

Choosing to share your time, money and attention with others makes life better for everybody. As you lend a hand, you may inspire other people to carry out more acts of kindness.