Without fail the holidays are a time when families and individuals think about giving back to the community ~ how great is that? People and businesses want to volunteer at local soup kitchens or donate turkeys for a food pantry. Fantastic! A majority of food pantries and soup kitchens count on the weeks before a holiday to raise a great deal of their yearly annual funding. Homeless shelters, battered women’s shelters, animal shelters and other charitable organizations all know to brace themselves for the onslaught of holiday giving. And that’s wonderful too ~ please don’t stop! But here’s the thing; they all need your support for the rest of the year as well! Here’s the best part about that; volunteering pays off in HUGE ways for you also!

In a rare moment of serendipity, as I was looking for the research to back up this piece, I went to my ‘go to’ source of Harvard Health Letter and there in Harvard crimson was an article on just this topic. How cool is that? In their piece, “Volunteering can be good for both the mind and body” (November 2014) they talk about how as few as 2 hours a week is enough to reap huge rewards for yourself, not to mention those you help out. Ready for how this helps you?

“We don’t have biological proof that volunteering improves your health. However, we do have evidence that volunteering is associated with healthy outcomes, such as lower blood pressure, according to a study published in Psychology and Aging in 2013, and also less depression, greater well-being, and a 22% reduction in the risk of dying, according to a review of 40 studies published in BMCPublic Health in 2013. Dr. Miller speculates that these benefits come from lower stress levels.

There was even a study in 2012, in Archives of General Psychiatry, that found older people who engage in meaningful and purposeful activity—such as volunteering—tend to have better thinking skills in old age.”

Here’s what else we know:

Giving back raises self-esteem and confidence, encourages friendships that can buffer us again stress and illnesses. That’s a whole huge amount of pay-off for helping others.

Not sure how to start or even if you want to go out on a cold day? Start locally! Writing a card to a friend who has a lot going on is a simple place to start. Hold open the door for the person behind you or start a chain of ‘pay it forwards’ by paying for the cup of coffee for the person behind you in line. Drop off those old magazines you have to the local nursing home or stash of old craft supplies to a local not for profit child care center.

I don’t want to discourage you from making those big, helpful contributions and signs of supports to those causes you feel strongly about since they are critical but I do want you, as a Thriver, to know that you small pieces add up!

Where will you volunteer today? Drop me a line and let me know!