Volunteering makes you happy.
It’s a couple of minutes before the curtain rises. Last check: “Where’s Macbeth?” – “He’s here” comes a whisper in the dark. “Lady MacBeth? Shakespeare? Do you have your props? Do you have the dagger?”
The kids are nervously excited, so am I…. An hour and a half later, or maybe two hours, I can’t even tell, the audience is applauding and as the kids come off stage I high-five every one of them. Once they’ve all cleared out, I put away some of the props of the last scene, close the script folder and turn off my reading lights. I feel excited, adrenaline still rushing through my body, I’m proud of the kids, who just put away another Shakespeare play and ecstatic to have been able to be part of elementary school age kids having fun while learning Shakespeare. Something they’ll be grateful for, when their high school teacher or college literature lecturer introduces a Shakespeare play and every other kid in the room lets out a heavy sigh…
I peek around the corner to see parents hugging their children and congratulating the teachers who helped put this together and the amazing teacher who writes a new Shakespeare based play every year.
Still high on the excitement I walk outside. It’ll take me a long time to go to sleep that evening from excitement and pure, undiluted happiness.
Why I started volunteering.
Why would I possibly volunteer to design and build a 25 by 8 Foot theater set and take on the role of stage director, without experience? Why are there a whole bunch of parents who help with rehearsals, putting together a dinner theater and decorating the school in Shakespeare theme weeks before the plays? Why do some parents volunteer so often and others never?
About a year before, one of the teachers involved with the Shakespeare Club asked me to create the set for the play and to take over as stage director. Creating the set is up my alley as an artist, but I was nervous about stage directing. I’d never done anything like it before.
Like many other people, I used to feel like I was too busy to volunteer and that it’s for busy-bodies who don’t have enough to do.
I started volunteering, because the school did me a solid and I felt I had to return the favor. I volunteered as a classroom parent, then got involved in the PTCO (called PTO in some schools) redesigning their website and assisting with the book fair and later Shakespeare Club. I then also stepped up to be active in my son’s cub scout pack as a scout leader and outside the school by doing graphic design work for a charity for homeless youth. Thanks to that, I gained appreciation for their difficult situation and the hard work of the charity. That was an incredible experience.
If I don’t get paid, what do I get out of it?
According to Google (so it must be true), a volunteer is a person who offers a service willingly and without pay. That sounds altruistic.
Yet, like most volunteers, I’m not truly altruistic. So, what do I get out of it? Well, nothing financially, but being active for the school does get you some recognition by the teachers and school staff, which is nice. But the real benefit is the wonderful feeling you get, when you see the results of your work for a cause you genuinely care for. It creates happiness.
I’d love to, but I don’t have time
You could argue that as a self-employed artist and stay-at-home dad I have more time to give than others, but that’s not exactly true. My get-stuff-done time are the 6 hours while the kids are at school, which is short for a work day. On the other hand, I don’t have a boss to ask for time off to volunteer.
Not all volunteering requires a lot of work or time. Often, it’s just one task, temporary or can be done at home or work. It could be as simple as making some photocopies. Many times it’s a team effort, so you can take on a job that fits your schedule.
Helpers High – As good as chocolate
The happiness and excitement I felt after the Shakespeare show is known by scientists as “Helpers High”.
According to Tracy P. Alloway Ph.D., who’s a psychology professor at the University of Florida, “giving of your time or volunteering can release the same feel-good sensation as eating chocolate or a candy bar. Brain scans show a surge of dopamine (the chemical in the brain that makes you feel good) when we give our volunteer time”
In addition, other studies have found that the chemical oxytocin, that reduces stress, is released by your brain when you volunteer. There are even studies that show people live longer when they volunteer regularly.
So, next time someone asks you to volunteer for anything you care about, remember that volunteering makes you feel happy. Just ask if they have a task that fits your schedule. Once you experience not only the satisfying result of your volunteering, but also how much the people in the organization appreciate your effort, you’ll realize how much happier you feel and you can also experience Helpers High!