Every Thanksgiving I think about my “Greatest Generation” friend Frank. Long after he had retired and he needed a big tug to launch him out of his easy chair, Frank faithfully headed to a volunteer job every day.
Late into his 80s he continued to serve on the board of the Seattle Children’s Home. He also “worked” as a greeter at the Seattle Art Museum (SAM) and the Pacific Science Center.
While I don’t always have the time or energy to volunteer like Frank, he is one of my many models for how to live life well. He has helped me see that one of the great secrets to a meaningful life is service to others. The golden paradox of that secret is that the more we give, the more we get.
Volunteering Makes Us Happy
Research shows that helping others kindles happiness. What is more, just as Frank knew instinctively, the more people volunteer, the happier they are.
Get this. Among weekly volunteers, 16 percent felt very happy-a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000-$100,000 versus $20,000, say researchers. Giving time to religious organizations had the greatest impact.
Benefits of Volunteering for Seniors
But how does volunteering work? Why does it make people happy?
In an article on “Helping Yourself While Helping Others,” the authors suggest these impressive benefits:
• Volunteering connects you to others – It helps you make your community better place, make friends and business associates and increases your social skills.
• Volunteering is good for your mind and body – Volunteering increases self-0confidence, combats depression and helps you stay physically healthy.
• Volunteering can advance your career – Volunteering can teach you valuable job skills.
• Volunteering brings fun and fulfillment to your life – Pick volunteer work that interests you.
What Kind of Volunteer Work is Best?
Another thing I learned from Frank about volunteering is that it really doesn’t matter what you do, just do something for someone. A former scout leader, Frank loved kids and laughter. So he naturally gravitated toward the fun of greeting excited youngsters and their families at the PSC.
I also learned that the value of volunteer service is not measured by some hierarchy of importance. Whether we babysit for the exhausted mom next door, call a homebound friend, donate a can of green beans to the local food bank or knit caps for premature babies, we are helping our neighbors, community and ourselves.
Thanksgiving is a wonderful time to remind ourselves that we can make a difference to someone in need. As Frank modeled so well, acts of generosity and kindness bring untold joy to one’s life!