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How Volunteering Can Enrich Your Life After 60

By Stephanie Cunningham April 18, 2019 Lifestyle

What improves your quality of life? What do you need to feel content and satisfied? Researchers asked retirees what was most important to their quality of life. There were four key answers:

  • Having something to do;
  • Having relationships;
  • Having a stake in the future;
  • Having a sense of continuity.

Volunteering your time and expertise is a nice way to gain all of the above. When volunteering, you have something to do in a social situation, while working for the common good and contributing to your family, community, or society.

Governments, non-profits, and society encourage retirees to volunteer. Many consider volunteering a time honoured and valued activity for everyone – but especially for retirees.

There are several reasons why volunteering is good for you from the responses of the brain to meeting your own goals.

The Neuroscience of Altruism

Researchers have looked at altruism’s effects on your brain. Altruism is doing something positive for someone else with no expectation of a return, as in volunteering.

When someone acts altruistically, different portions of the brain show activity. One portion of the brain is associated with rewards. This reward response occurs whether one is voluntarily or involuntarily altruistic. Your brain rewards you for altruism whether you expect it or not.

Research has shown that cultivating positive emotions is good for your health and can even improve it. It decreases stress and increases pro-social behaviour and personal well-being, along with raising self-esteem.

Baby Boomers Already Volunteer

Long-term social studies on volunteering predict that baby boomers will continue to volunteer at rates higher than the previous two generations.

A large number of baby boomers offers a deep source of expertise and knowledge for non-profits and communities. But retired baby boomers have their own goals as well. Many want to take part in productive activities and remain physically and mentally active for years to come.

Volunteering can fulfil retirees’ quality of life criteria and meet their social and emotional needs. Very often it results in productive and vigorous activity.

Fulfilling Your Own Goals Through Volunteering

Volunteering enhances our quality of life because of the effects of altruism on the mind and body. Hence, it can provide productivity, connectedness, and legacy. But if volunteering doesn’t also fulfil your needs, then it does not improve your quality of life.

For example, I wanted to volunteer at a school, because I missed my grandchildren. I applied to work with the students but ended up cleaning and doing kitchen work. Since I can do the cleaning at home, I quit – the volunteer work wasn’t meeting my needs.

Planning for Volunteering

Friends or acquaintances may ask us to volunteer. Deciding first on what type of activities you would like to perform in a volunteer capacity is important. On receiving those requests, you will know whether they fulfil your goals.

Volunteering can be part of your legacy to your society as well as meeting your definition of “productiveness.” It can involve giving away your millions like Bill Gates, or it can be something much simpler.

Andrea Putting discusses her volunteer efforts in a recent podcast episode. She organises annual events for people of different religions where they drink coffee and eat chocolate together.

Called Chocolate and Coffee Day for Religious Harmony, this event promotes the similarities we share regardless of our individual religions. It is a simple idea, but it is true to Andrea’s beliefs and ethics.

There are many ways to be altruistic. Volunteering time or donating money can be very positive. Your brain rewards you and enhances your mental and emotional state.

For baby boomers, improving your quality of life through altruism can also fulfil your goals for a productive and active retirement.

Where have you volunteered since you retired? Why did you volunteer? What benefits have you noticed? How did you choose the volunteer opportunities that you participate in? Please share your thoughts and advice with our community!

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The Author

After taking early retirement as a policy officer, Stephanie Cunningham moved to Australia and earned general and specialized certifications to teach senior yoga. She taught classes for 10 years, then started a podcast about changing the perception of yoga.

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