‘Helper’s high’ explained (or why you should volunteer)

I joined my staff at our offsite storage on Saturday to help with our annual spring cleaning. We planned on going through old files to see what could be discarded and to reorganize the space. A little bit like the show Storage Wars, we were anxious to see what was in the unit. We were hoping to find some vintage photos and documents to make a historical collage of the shelter. Arriving a little late, I found a group of people hard at work uncovering old treasures.

In the group were two volunteers that I had never met. Introducing myself, I learned that this was the first day of volunteering for both of the gentleman who were decked out in their lime green volunteer t-shirts. They had recently attended the volunteer orientation and decided to help with this project while they finished their training. While we carried boxes, I learned a little bit about their lives and why they signed up to be volunteers. They told me they wanted to give back and make a difference in the community. This is a common theme I hear across the entire volunteer corp.

The Pasadena Humane Society & SPCA has 1,500 active volunteers who work in all areas of the shelter. When I ask them why they volunteer, they share stories of the animals and the people they have touched and helped. They speak about the friendships they have made with the other volunteers. They speak in a passionate voice about how helping animals makes them feel and about their commitment to making the world a better place.

To continue on the theme of volunteerism, I was honored to attend a discussion about kindness and volunteering held by Rabbi Rick Schechter of Temple Sinai in Glendale on Sunday. The group discussed the science behind volunteering and how giving of your time, talent and treasure, makes you a healthier person. Highlighting the work of Dr. Sonja Lyubomirsky, Rabbi Schechter shared that there are many benefits to volunteering, including a decrease in depression, an enhanced feeling of happiness, improved self-worth, a sense of mastery, a feeling of belonging and community, and increased personal control that is often described as “helpers high.” To further illustrate the “helpers high,” he shared a story originally told by Allen Lutz. When Mr. Lutz was a young boy and was feeling sad, his mother would always say, “Go out and help somebody.” He discovered that when he helped someone, he ended up feeling better.

The group also discussed the importance of having compassion when choosing to volunteer. They described true compassion as existing when you can feel someone’s pain and are compelled to do something about it. When you have a natural inclination to share and get involved. When you put your own feelings aside to help others. A participant in the group shared a quote that he saw as a youth and had inspired him to dedicate his life to community service. It read, “I cried because I had no shoes until I met a man that had no feet.” Another participant shared a quote by Paul McCartney, “The love you take is equal to the love you make.”

In April, we celebrate Volunteer Appreciation Month. I am writing today to encourage all of you to consider becoming a volunteer. Choose something that you are passionate about and go for it. The experience that you have will show you why it’s so important. The feeling that you get will be like nothing you have experienced before. If you’re a parent, expose your children to volunteering early. Be a mentor and volunteer with your kids. If animals are your passion, consider joining the Pasadena Humane Society volunteer team. We have opportunities for individuals of all ages, including a wonderful youth program called Kids for Animals. You can find out more information by visiting pasadenahumane.org.


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