Learning Student-made Wellbeing

How volunteering changed my outlook

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The act of volunteering leads to tangible change. Collective action transforms communities and improves people’s lives. However, volunteering can also enrich the life of the ‘volunteer’ by providing a sense of meaning and purpose. Which is why for me, volunteering has been a vital part of a balanced university experience.

Since joining university, I have volunteered at ‘Greater Together Manchester’, a charity which aims to tackle poverty and invigorate communities. Greater Together Manchester runs a rolling night shelter and keeps people off the streets and in safety.

Volunteering has never been easier. The University provides an invaluable service called the ‘Volunteer Hub’, which makes it easy to discover a huge range of opportunities, and therefore find a role that you’re both passionate about and that fits your needs. I was motivated to help tackle the homelessness crisis after perceiving a stark contrast with Manchester and my hometown. The ‘Volunteer Hub’ ensured I could act on this impulse.

Volunteering can be fit into any busy schedule, due to the staggering range of opportunities and flexibility of the many roles available. For example, volunteers are increasingly required online, in the realms of writing and graphic design, which can be done from home. My experience at Greater Together Manchester was practical because you could sign up to the evening, overnight or morning shifts – whenever suited you. I found my volunteering through the ‘Volunteer Hub’, and through that I was able to filter my requirement of flexibility when I was searching through the various opportunities.

There is growing research and data to suggest that those who volunteer experience a vast amount of health benefits. Volunteering for two hours a week has a measurable impact on your happiness. A study named ‘The Compassionate Instinct’ by Berkeley University has shown that helping others brings pleasure. Participants were asked to help others whilst their brains were monitored, and it was found that helping other people triggers the same brain activity associated with pleasure and reward. The release of Oxytocin provides a biochemical and neurological explanation to the changes in feelings sparked by volunteering.

Living in a state of gratitude, being of service to other people and living a life where you feel connected to your community all increase your sense of purpose and meaning. There’s a real sense of fulfilment and connection to be gained from being in service to others. In my experience, I perceived a noticeable improvement in my happiness when I began to volunteer. I found the act of creating a warm and welcoming space for people that would otherwise be in a rough shelter gave me a sense of meaning and connection to my surrounding community. Whether it’s as simple as making someone a cup of tea or having a meaningful conversation, volunteering gave me a sense that I was having a positive impact on the guests lives.

For me, volunteering has grounded my expectations and made me feel more content. I really believe that happiness is a consequence of the pursuit of meaning and purpose, and our happiness depends less on objective conditions and more on our own expectations. However, expectations tend to adapt to conditions. When things improve, expectations increase, meaning that even dramatic improvements in conditions could leave you just as dissatisfied as before. For me, a practical method of breaking this cycle is through volunteering.

I encourage you to get involved in a cause you are passionate about to test my claims. As students, we hear a lot about how good volunteering is for our CVs, but for me, volunteering has provided me with more than this. Volunteering has provided me with a sense of purpose that has led to a definite improvement in my outlook and happiness.

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