Happy Easter! This is a perfect day to reflect on joy and happiness. In preparation for an upcoming trip to Tibet, I’ve been reading The Art of Happiness: A Handbook for Living by the Dalai Lama and Howard Cutler. The book explains that “there is an inextricable link between one’s personal happiness, compassion and caring for others.” One thing I associate with compassion and caring for others is volunteering. The good news is that, in the internet age, regardless of your schedule, it’s incredibly easy and convenient to volunteer your time and talents to a worthwhile cause.
A fantastic web site that allows you to do volunteer work whenever you have a few minutes or hours to spare is Sparked.com. Its web-based volunteer tasks take between five minutes and two hours to complete, and provide assistance to a wide variety of non-profit and charitable organizations. Visit Sparked and answer some questions to indicate the causes that you’re passionate about, and the skills that you can contribute (e.g., research, design, marketing, writing, social media, technology). You’ll get a weekly e-mail with options based on the interests and skills that you indicated. You can also search the site by cause or location and select an online volunteer activity.
Another amazing online resource for volunteer opportunities is VolunteerMatch. They have search engines that will help you locate volunteer information and listings in your local community, in addition to “virtual” volunteer opportunities. VolunteerMatch lists tens of thousands of volunteer opportunities from about 80,000 nonprofit organizations.
I like to volunteer in an area where I myself am in need of help. Several years ago, when I was looking for a new job, I volunteered at the Cabrini Green Legal Aid Clinic Expungement Help Desk. This involved helping people get minor crimes expunged from their records so they could get hired. The people I helped were so grateful, and seeing the struggles they were going through to get a job made me stop feeling sorry for myself. These days, I’d like to make the switch from being a lawyer to being a writer and teacher, so I’m volunteering at Open Books, an organization that provides reading and writing programs for students from across Chicago.
In addition to adding to your happiness quotient, having volunteer activities on your rèsumè can make the difference when it comes to landing a job. A recent LinkedIn survey found that one in five employers hired someone primarily because of her volunteer service outside of work.
Also, studies have shown that doing regular volunteer work can dramatically increase life expectancy and overall health. As described in The Art of Happiness, one study showed that people “who were regularly involved with volunteer activities that helped others … had a distinct feeling of calmness and enhanced self-worth following the activity. Not only did these caring behaviors provide an interaction that was emotionally nourishing, but it was also found that this ‘helper’s calm’ was linked to relief from a variety of stress-related physical disorders as well.”
As Eleanor Roosevelt observed, “Since you get more joy out of giving joy to others, you should put a good deal of thought into the happiness you are able to give.” This Easter, put some thought into becoming a volunteer!