Being thankful and having gratitude for what you have in your life has a MAJOR positive impact. It can cure depression, make you overall happier, healthier and wealthier as it can boost your career and it can even help you live longer! So you can see why a holiday around giving thanks can be such a great thing to celebrate.
Thanksgiving is also a wonderful time to give to others as others have given to us. No matter how little or much you have in your life, people have positively touched you in ways that have helped you and volunteering is a great way to recognize that and give back. In this post, I would like to share with you what I personally have learned from volunteering, why I’ve incorporated it as part of my Thanksgiving traditions, and how you can start this lovely tradition in your own home.
My mother was a really sweet person. She had a big heart and loved to show love to others. I distinctly remember one year she decided we would delay our thanksgiving dinner by a day so that we could head into the inner city with a group of volunteers and clean up the streets, give out meals and clothes to those in need and provide entertainment to kids. It was a lot of hard work, to be honest, and not the most relaxing thing to do on a holiday, but to be honest it was a wonderful thing to experience. Often as kids, we don’t realize the lessons our parents teach us until we’re older and this was the case for me. I found that every Thanksgiving as I was cooking and celebrating that memory would pop up in my mind. So last year, I decided to change up my traditions and try something new and it changed me.
I remember waking up the Saturday before the week of Thanksgiving and I was looking for something fun to do that day. I often look on the Boston Calendar for interesting things to do and as I was scrolling down the list, I saw a volunteer opportunity with the Salvation Army to hand out turkey dinners to those less fortunate. Remembering how that childhood experience made me feel years later came up and I decided to sign up. My husband decided to come with me too!
I remember a lot of smiles. I remember getting hugs. I remember being thanked and feeling that those people who I was helping were actually helping me emotionally. I felt loved by strangers, I felt appreciated, and connected.
For me, volunteering helped me to be grateful for all that I have. It brought me back to growing up and hearing my parents talk about serious money problems. It brought me back to how poor my husband and I were when we first got married. It brought me back to a memory where I was crying eating a ham sandwich because pasta was four boxes for a dollar and I hadn’t had a proper meal in a while. It brought me back to me reading about how to apply for food stamps because we just spent the last of our funds to get my husband a suit for a job interview that would eventually change our lives. I was reminded of the gratitude I felt as my life went from one extreme to the other where I was now able to follow my dreams of being a blogger and an artist.
YOU get to go home knowing you did something good. You made a positive impact in lives whether those lives realize it or not, whether they said “thank you” or not. Volunteering is a time where you can give out of your excess. Excess doesn’t have to be financial either. Like I said, growing up my family was also in need, but we had some free time and we gave that to a better cause and that made us feel good.
If that’s not good enough here are some other benefits!
1.) It Ends Loneliness and Increases Socialization: The holidays can be a really hard time for people. With all those commercials of families gathered around a dinner table, it can be easy to feel all alone. Volunteering with others allows you to be in a family of sorts where everyone is so happy you came and are grateful for your help!
2.) It Helps Your Emotions, Reduces the Effects of Mental Illness, and Lower Stress!: Stress and the holidays go hand in hand. Seriously, if you don’t believe me, just see how relaxed people are while looking for a parking space at Best Buy on Black Friday. Volunteering connects us with the whole of humanity and when we feel connected a lot of our negative emotions like anger, stress, and mental illnesses like PTSD and OCD are reduced!
3.) It Helps INCREASE Your Self Esteem: Volunteering makes you feel good!!! I think I’ve already covered this but I’m going to say it again! If you struggle with negative self-esteem. If you don’t think highly of yourself you might find that changes as you volunteer. Because you start seeing yourself and having proof that you are actually better than the lies your mind sometimes can tell you!
4.) Promotes Longer Life and Graceful Aging: How is this even possible? All that feeling good, inviting positivity into your life and making good karma actually does something. In THIS STUDY, it says that those who volunteer on average 100 hours a year are some of the healthiest people in the United States! Not only that but it has shown that those who are elderly also benefit from volunteering. They feel younger, empowered, experience less pain, and even have less heart disease! Not too shabby!
5.) It Burns Belly Fat: Looking to get your daily amount of steps in? Volunteering is a great way to do that! Walking around a food bank can be a serious workout. People under stress tend to store a lot of weight around their midsection and vital organs because of a hormone called Cortisol. Remember how volunteering helps reduce stress? Well, it turns out reducing stress can also reduce that hormone which makes for a tinier tummy!
6.) It improves your job prospects: How does working for no money increase your chances to make money? Because when you volunteer you’re showing your prospective jobs that you’re not sitting around watching TV all day. Now I doubt that if you’re out of work that you’re honestly just watching TV all day, but volunteering shows that you know how to show up on time, work hard, interact with people and get a good job done! Who wouldn’t want to hire that! PLUS volunteering also puts you in contact with corporate communities and gives you the opportunity to possibly build your network! You can actually put the time you spend volunteering on your resume!
7.) Helps Children and Families Grow Together: Remember how I said that one memory I made with my mother came up again in my 30’s? I wonder what would have happened if we had never done that. Not only did I see my mother as a woman who was willing to work hard at her jobs, but work hard giving back to those she didn’t even know. I bonded emotionally a little during that time with her. Volunteering with your family will be something you all do for the betterment of your community and communities are made up of families so ultimately you better your own family. You create strong happy memories and life lessons that your kids will be able to reflect back on in adulthood.
As I’m writing this, I’m feeling like I also need to add even more volunteering opportunities in my life, not just during Thanksgiving. So let’s see where and what kind of volunteer opportunities are available.
I’m going to cover a bunch of different ways you can volunteer during the holidays but please don’t forget that you can volunteer at any time.
1.) Look for what you’re interested in: For those of you who have been following my blog you’ll know that I enjoy cooking, making art, and snuggling my cats, so it’s no surprise that I would look for volunteer opportunities that match those things. So consider what you and / or your family likes to do.
2.) Visit some volunteer websites: As I said above, I found the opportunity with the Salvation Army through the Boston Calendar, but you can also go to VolunteerMatch and search for opportunities based on your interests!
3.) Check-in with your local place of worship: My mother was highly active in our church and I can distinctly remember her cooking and visiting sick members of our congregation, and taking my sisters and I to visit the elderly in nursing homes. So if you’re connected to a particular religion, or are interested in what any religion has to offer, it might be fun and less intimidating to volunteer with those connected to that religion.
There are always people in need and a day of your time can help so many and in some ways, you help yourself as well. I hope this post has inspired you! If you would like to talk about it with me just let me know in the comments below. I always enjoy connecting with those who read this blog. Also feel free to connect with me on Facebook, Instagram or LinkedIn. I wish you a wonderful holiday week!