Welcome to 2021, and may it be kind to us all. Not many people thought 2020 was their best year, marked as it was with global grief and uncertainty and personal threat to health and wellbeing.
But it has reminded us to make the most of what we can when we can.
I think that as we age, we are increasingly aware of this imperative. The question becomes what do we want to do, and what can we realistically do, to add value to our lives?
I use the word “value” intentionally.
What adds value in your life? Happiness? Purpose? Meaning? Fun? Friendships? It is yet another of life’s ironies that in many situations you cannot get without giving.
What can you give so that you can get a smorgasbord of value adding experiences? Possibly you can give time, money, your talents, your kindness, but who wants those even if you would give them willingly?
Perhaps the answer is volunteering – you give and you get.
There are well-documented benefits to volunteering. Many studies have shown that volunteering is associated with raised levels of happiness and lowered levels of depression and stress.
Volunteering has been shown to improve confidence and self-worth. A major study with 70,000 participants in the UK found that people who volunteered were more satisfied with their lives and rated their overall health as better than those who did not engage.
The study also found that the frequency of doing voluntary work was important. Those who volunteered at least once a month reported better mental health than participants who volunteered infrequently.
Volunteers’ perception of having better mental and physical health is well founded. One study claimed that volunteering reduces the risk of premature death by 22 per cent.
Some people have said that now they are retired, they are not going to do unpaid work.
Others have said that they volunteered on committees and had had unpleasant experiences with other volunteer co-workers, while yet others mentioned that they volunteered a few hours a week but there was pressure to do more. So, volunteering is not a perfect answer, but it is a good one.
The 2016 census showed that the peak volunteering age for seniors was between 65 and 74 years of age.
People in that age group provide 43.8 percent of volunteering in Australia and did the greatest number of hours on average. It also recorded that more females than males do voluntary work.
With those statistics it is probable that you are already a volunteer but Covid-19 may have disrupted your voluntary work. I hope you might seek to return to it and to the benefits it will provide.
Whether you are starting volunteering, or returning to it, there are many options. There are approximately 600,000 not-for-profit organisations in Australia, and they all rely on volunteers.
To find positions in your area search the website govolunteer.com.au which is an initiative of Volunteering Australia.
Mahatma Ghandi said that the best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others. Aristotle is reported to have said that the essence of life is to serve others and to do good.
Volunteering might be an effective way to value add to the smorgasbord of life and provide one way to ensure a happy and healthy 2021.
Judy Rafferty is the author of Retirement Your Way, A Practical Guide to Knowing What You Want and How to Get It. Available at all good bookshops and online.