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Expert Advice

Volunteer for a good cause

Volunteering is good for the soul any time of year, but might feel particularly meaningful around special days, like a holiday or birthday of a loved one who died. It feels nice to help others, and it benefits both the givers and receivers—volunteering is connected to improved mood, higher self-esteem, and even a longer life. There’s also evidence that volunteering can distract people from their own problems, help them build new connections, and remind them of how fortunate they are.1

If someone you love is feeling low or having a hard time, think about inviting them to volunteer with you. To find ways to give back, check out VolunteerMatch.org. It lists opportunities to volunteer in your hometown and on the issues close to your heart—everything from disaster relief to fighting hunger to working with refugees. And if you have special skills—like a legal background or fluency in another language—VolunteerMatch will suggest ways to put those skills to use. (Another website that can direct you toward volunteer opportunities is Idealist.org. And if you’d like to help mentor students online, check out CareerVillage.org.)

Or maybe your friend would rather find a way to help from home. There are lots of small ways we can make a difference from our kitchens or living rooms—from donating clothes and housewares to collecting toiletries for a local homeless shelter to assembling care packages for troops serving overseas. You could also make holiday decorations and drop them off at a local nursing home or deliver gently used toys and kids’ books to a children’s hospital. If you have a garden, consider donating your fresh fruits, herbs, and vegetables to a local food bank. Many nonprofits also need help with technical tasks like blogging, coding, project management, and social media—so if you have a knack for any of those activities, reach out to your favorite charity and offer your time and talent.

If you’re not sure which cause you’re most passionate about, try VolunteerMatch’s quiz to find your next opportunity.

No matter what you pick, both you and your friend may feel your spirits lift by making someone else’s day a little brighter.

Endnotes

  1. R. Casiday, E. Kinsman, C. Fisher, and C. Bambra, “Volunteering and health: What impact does it really have?,” Volunteering England, 2008.
    https://newsroom.uhc.com/content/dam/newsroom/2017_VolunteerStudy_Summary_Web.pdf.
    Marc A. Musick and John Wilson, Volunteers: A Social Profile (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2008).
    Louis A. Penner, John F. Dovidio., Jane A. Piliavin., and David A. Schroeder, "Prosocial Behavior: Multilevel Perspectives," Annual Review of Psychology 56, no. 1 (2005): 365–92; doi:10.1146/annurev.psych.56.091103.070141.