That warm, fuzzy, going-to-heaven feeling you get when you do a good deed isn’t all in your head, discovers Sinead Corcoran Dye.
Research has found that acts of kindness can increase happiness, reduce stress, and even help you live longer – and one way to incorporate these acts into your weekly routine is by volunteering.
For the past few weeks, I’ve volunteered at the Kindness Collective Joy Store, run by my friend Sarah Page.
The Joy Store is New Zealand’s first social toy store, which allows parents and caregivers going through tough times the opportunity to choose free gifts for their children.
The initiative began with a physical store in Auckland last year and has expanded to include families in need in Hamilton, Tauranga, Taupō, Wellington, Christchurch, and Dunedin.
This year it will have provided toys and treats for at least 10,000 Kiwi kids – up from 6000 last year.
Full disclosure, my work with the Joy Store started as a paid gig. Sarah asked me to come on board part-time over Christmas to create social media content in the hope of raising awareness of the store and drumming up more donations.
I was initially brought into the team to take photos, film videos, and write lovely Instagram captions to persuade people to open their wallets. But on my first day in the store after finishing my work, I found myself staying later stacking shelves, working the till, and helping families choose presents for their kids.
By the end of the week, I was out in South Auckland visiting ECE centres, and picking up cartons of biscuits from corporates – and I’ve never felt happier and more relaxed.
While you’re never going to get rich working for a charity you might find you’re the healthiest you’ve ever been – physically and mentally.
People who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who don’t, and volunteering has been shown to reduce symptoms of chronic pain and heart disease.
Volunteers have also been found to have lower rates of depression than those who don’t.
Volunteering leads to both higher self-esteem, from giving back to the community, and an increased sense of accomplishment from improving or developing skills.
A London School of Economics study of American adults also found that happiness increased as time spent volunteering increased.
And while it might seem like a drain on what little time off work you do have – bizarrely, people who volunteer feel like they have more free time even if they don’t.
A Swiss study of 746 full- and part-time workers revealed that those who volunteered experienced a higher level of work/life satisfaction than those who didn’t, even when controlling for factors like actual time and resources.
And, in a 2012 report in Psychological Science, volunteers reported a greater sense of “time affluence” than people who spent that same amount of time doing something for themselves.
When we practise kindness, whether on a small or larger scale, our brains release neurochemicals that promote our sense of well-being. This has been dubbed the “helper’s high”, because it releases endorphins.
So, if you’re barely crawling to the end of the year, feeling absolutely strung out and exhausted – though it might seem like the last thing you fancy, you could consider volunteering.
There are so many charities that need help – through manpower or donations, and it’s not just the charities you’ll help – you’ll probably feel better for it too.