The Science Of Volunteering

The Science of Volunteering

Over the last year or so, some of my most thrilling experiences stem from knowing that, in some way, my volunteer efforts with Just Ask Prevention have benefited others. But this probably doesn’t come as too much of a surprise. After all, don’t we volunteer because we want to help people? If not to help others, why else would we commit our valuable time to something we don’t have to do?

One example of my volunteering excitement is the exhilaration I felt while participating as a facilitator for Just Ask’s recent Youth Cares Conference (YCC). Even though hosting an in-person conference was our initial goal, this year’s conference was virtual due to COVID-19, and we saw that a virtual environment offers many opportunities. I witnessed an amazing discussion develop between two participants. Divided geographically, they came together because of their common interest in fighting human trafficking. By sharing experiences and exchanging information, they helped each other as well as all who participated in the discussion. As a facilitator of this virtual dialogue, I helped make all that happen. Does it get any better than that?

Winston Churchill said, “We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”

When we give of our time, we help the people to whom and the organization to which we give that time. Does volunteering help us too? The science says, “Yes!” What I experienced during my YCC moderator experience is known as a “helper’s high.”

Studies show that the euphoria we feel when we help others creates feelings similar to those we have after we exercise—the runner’s high. Neuroscientists discovered that helping others stimulates the mesolimbic area of our brain. This system mirrors stimuli such as sex and food by releasing feel-good neurotransmitters like oxytocin and vasopressin. As a consequence, when people express generosity to others, such as by volunteering or donating money, they feel good and are more likely to repeat these behaviors.

In addition to the “helper’s high,” volunteerism provides us with other benefits that keep us healthy and can even increase our life expectancy. Volunteers experience lower rates of depression than those who don’t participate in volunteer activities. In addition, volunteers have an increased sense of accomplishment, can learn new skills, tend to be happier, and can even live longer than those who do not engage in volunteering.

Amazing! The science of volunteering is real. What makes us feel good is actually good for us. Does it make sense for us to incorporate a volunteer component to this new year then? It might be an option to consider.

This year, why not volunteer anytime, anywhere?

Just Ask is dedicated to eradicating human trafficking through education, outreach, and heightened awareness in our communities. A key takeaway from my YCC experience last November was that our current virtual environment offers opportunities and advantages that Just Ask will use to fight human trafficking in socially distant situations. The power of digital platforms allowing us to enact change will lead to future exciting volunteer opportunities that support Just Ask remotely. I for one look forward to experiencing my next helper’s high!

Just Ask offers many ways to get involved with the fight to end human trafficking. If you are interested in learning about volunteer opportunities with the organization, please email me; I will be happy to talk with you about your passion and help you find your place among the incredible team of volunteers who see their passion in us too.