How giving back can feed your soul and increase your happiness
When you think of doing things for others you tend to think of what it’s going to do for THEM, which is the general intent, right? But you should also think about what it’s going to do for YOU. Not that you should engage in volunteerism or any other philanthropic endeavor with the intent of getting something out of it for yourself, but it’s nice to know that it’s a win-win. It’s long been documented what the benefits of doing things for others are on your own mood, outlook, overall well-being, even your blood pressure! Suffice it to say, in the immortal words of Cher Horowitz, “’Tis a far, far better thing doing stuff for other people.” Below is an excerpt from my book, “Single Girl Bliss: How to Stop Feeling Alone and Start Feeling Alive,” on how to find ways to give to others and in turn give back to yourself!
Believe it or not, there’s nothing more fulfilling than doing something that benefits someone else just out of the goodness of your heart while not expecting anything in return. I’m talking about giving back to your community through volunteerism. This doesn’t even have to mean a formal charitable organization or a regular commitment. You could mow your elderly neighbor’s lawn while she’s laid up after a knee replacement. Or bake cookies for your friend’s child’s class because you know she doesn’t have time. There are so many little things you can do for others that will warm both their heart and yours. And if you do desire to volunteer with a formal organization there are many, many of those that need your help.
If you don’t know specifically which organization or type of organization you’d like to volunteer with, think about your interests. Do you love animals and also the outdoors? Volunteer with your local shelter or rescue group to take the dogs on long walks, runs or hikes. Do you love working with kids and also reading? Volunteer to read to the kids at a home for underprivileged youth. Or better yet, help them with their reading. Do you have a soft spot for the elderly and also love crafting? Volunteer at a senior living facility to lead a crafting class with easy-to-make projects. No matter what your interests are and which groups you’d like to give your time to, there’s someone out there who needs you and will appreciate what you do. I’m a baker and I love to spend a cold winter Sunday at home whipping up all sorts of delectable concoctions. When I worked in an office it was easy to unload the fruits of my labor. I would bring my delicacies into the office on Monday mornings. You’ve never seen a group of people more thankful or more in need of a sugar rush to jumpstart their week. When I started working from home several years ago, though, I all but stopped baking. I had no outlet for my confections and I certainly wasn’t going to bake an entire cake or batch of cookies for myself. But I missed the baking and so I thought about what I could do. One of my neighbors is a firefighter and I asked him if his station would appreciate homemade baked goods once in a while. Duh! So, I started baking for the firefighters and have received so much gratitude and appreciation, but it’s really me who’s grateful for what they do on a daily basis and for how I can give back to them!
If you’re really not the volunteering type and putting yourself out there to do good deeds for others on a regular basis is just not you, that’s okay, it doesn’t make you a bad person, it’s just not your thing. Or maybe you just simply don’t have the time. If you spend a lot of time working or caring for children or other family members or friends, maybe you’re not looking for ways to connect with others through volunteerism. Yet you still want that sense of goodwill that giving back to your community brings. There’s always money, honey. If you can’t give your time then you can give of yourself financially. Charitable organizations need money just as much as they need volunteer hours. Some workplaces even have matching programs where they’ll match a certain percentage of what you donate to charity. This doesn’t mean you have to donate thousands or even hundreds of dollars. Twenty-five dollars here, fifty dollars there, it all adds up. Find a charity or two with mission statements in which you believe and give ‘em a little financial help. And of course you can write those donations off of your taxes and who couldn’t use that? I find that giving some of my time and some of my money is a winning combination for me.
I’ll close this chapter with a personal volunteerism story that will hopefully inspire you. Several years ago I volunteered for a cat shelter in my city and found it rewarding, but had to give it up due to time constraints that I was under at the time. I got out from under those constraints and for several years I would think about going back to volunteering there, but for some reason I never pulled the trigger. It’s like most changes we want to make in our lives – we have the desire to change, but then struggle with the follow through. Finally, at the beginning of last year I made a New Year’s resolution to go back. I decided that a regularly scheduled volunteer shift wasn’t for me due to my work schedule, but that I was interested in special events. Every month they send out a listing of the regular monthly events as well as any special events for that month, and you can sign up for what interests you and what fits your schedule. I end up signing up for at least one event a month and it has been a wonderful addition to my life. In exchange for my time I’ve received the joy of knowing that I’m contributing to a cause in which I believe. I feel a sense of belonging to this organization. I feel a sense of purpose when I realize how much they depend on volunteers like me. I know I’ve helped them out of a jam when I’ve been the only one or one of the only ones to sign up for a particular event. I’ve met some wonderful fellow volunteers and gotten to know some of the shelter staff. Everyone is always so friendly and thankful, it’s just a wonderful environment to be a part of. I even find myself coming home from an event and thinking about how we can do it better next year and how I can contribute to that.
When you’re single there’s often the feeling that you don’t belong anywhere. You don’t belong to a specific someone, you don’t belong to the couples club like “everyone else,” and you sometimes feel like you don’t even belong in society. Finding yourself a great volunteer gig can provide you with a strong sense of belonging and purpose, as well as providing an organization with something they so desperately need. Connecting with others and giving back to your community is a win-win situation.
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