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I will try to create more happiness and less unhappiness in the world around me


Action 12

Volunteer your time, energy and skills

Volunteer 600 X 300

Whether it's a one-off or something you do on a regular basis, volunteering is good all round. As well as making a positive contribution to the happiness of others, it's a great way to meet people, get the most out of your local area and to increase your own happiness and wellbeing.

Why do it?

Science shows that we can get as much out of volunteering as the people we are giving our time for or to.

Giving to others through volunteering and in other ways has been associated with reduced depression and anxiety and increased personal wellbeing and happiness. Indeed one researcher described the 'helpers high'. [1]

What's more, volunteering is one way to actively participate in social and community life, which is also strongly associated with happiness and life satisfaction. [2]

Where to start

Step 1: Think

What sort of volunteering would work best for you practically? Although it's definitely good to push our boundaries (see Keep learning new things) we're likely to make the biggest impact if it fits with our situation, likes and skills. [3]

A good place to get started is to think about:

  • How much time am I able and willing to give?
  • How regularly? E.g. once per week, per month, every other weekend etc?
  • What skills am I willing to offer? (Often just a spare pair of hands or a friendly voice is enough).
  • What skills might I like to learn?
  • What would I enjoy doing? E.g. Something physical like gardening or sports coaching; something office based or something out and about like taking older or physically impaired people shopping.

Step 2. Find an opportunity that fits

There are lots of ways to find volunteering opportunities that are a good fit for you. Here are some ideas

  • Look for chances to help out locally. For example you could help a neighbour, read at a local school, work in a community garden or local park, or help out at a local community centre. Local opportunities should be advertised in your local library, local papers, community notice boards or on your council's website. Or why not ask people you know in your area?
  • Browse through volunteering websites. There are many volunteering websites that are very easy to use (see Resources below). Simply put in your postcode, the times you might be available and any specific ideas about the kinds of volunteering you would like to do. If you're not sure what you'd be most interested in doing then you can browse through all of the local opportunities and see what inspires you!
  • Do two things at once. Innovative projects like the Good Gym allow you to integrate volunteering into your usual exercise routines - you can keep fit and do good at the same time.
  • Short of time? If you're worried that you don't have time to commit to a regular volunteering role, check out Spots of Time to learn about small and creative ways you can make a big difference to people in your local area.
  • Join a local time bank. Time banks provide an innovative way for people to help others and help themselves at the same time. Participants 'deposit' their time in the bank by giving practical support to others and are able to 'withdraw' their time when they need something done themselves. If there isn't one in your local area why not set one up? Be a pioneer for a new community currency that places value on time, care and neighbourliness.

[1] Post, S. G., & Niemark, J. (2007). Why good things happen to good people: How to live a longer, healthier, happier life by the simple act of giving.New York: Broadway Books.

[2] Luks, A. (1988, October). Helper's high: Volunteering makes people feel good, physically and emotionally. And like "runner's calm," it's probably good for your health. Psychology Today, 22(10), 34-42.

[3] Nef(2008) Five Waysto Wellbeing: the Evidence. Prepared for theUKGovernment's Foresight Project


  • FoodCycle: where communities unite to make sure no good food is wasted

  • Reach links up skilled volunteers with voluntary organisations

  • The UK’s leading volunteering and training charity (formerly CSV)

  • Evidence that kindness can improve our lives

  • Community project to bring neighbourhoods closer together

  • Volunteering Made Easy

  • Develops knowledge and understanding of volunteering to support practitioners

  • Inspiring and connecting 16-24 year olds with volunteering opportunities

  • Mentoring programmes for children aged 5-11 years with behavioural difficulties

  • Pairs runners with isolated less-mobile people in their area

  • Credit systems to increase participation of community members in public services

  • Brings in skills & expertise to help small charities and social enterprises grow

  • Miniature volunteering activities - changing the world starts small

  • Supports individuals and businesses to find rewarding volunteering opportunities

  • Supporting, enabling and celebrating volunteering in all its diversity

  • Exploring how the arts can inspire kindness, community and social change

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Giving is good for you

When we give to others it activates the areas of the brain associated with pleasure, social connection and trust.

Altruistic behaviour releases endorphins in the brain and boosts happiness for us as well as the people we help. Studies have shown that giving money away tends to make people happier than spending it on themselves.


Do things for others

Giving 200

Mother Theresa

"We cannot do great things on this Earth, only small things with great love"

- Mother Theresa