How volunteering can build important social connections
Whether you’re someone who makes New Year’s Resolutions or not, the closing of one year and the beginning of another offers an informal milestone to reflect on the past and plan for the future.
Some of us might be looking forward to creating a new life or routine that incorporates activities or practices that promise to add more meaning, joy, strength, energy, or connectedness in 2022. Whatever the goals, at the core of all our hopes is the desire to lead more fulfilling lives and feel the best we can.
If you’re amid planning for a great 2022, consider the power of social connection and ways you can add more of it into your life to benefit your health and wellbeing.
What is social connection?
Researchers describe ‘social connection’ as the feeling of belonging within a group, or the feeling of being close to other people.
The concept of social connection has been studied at length, even prior to the recent advents of social distancing and self-isolation, with findings indicating that social connection is a core human need, as necessary as water and shelter.
As described in the book, Social: Why Our Brains Are Wired to Connect, mammals are born reliant on their caregivers for survival, which may explain why evolutionary, we need and seek connection, and why our health and development suffers if this need is not met.
Why is social connection important?
In contrast, when social connections are a regular feature of life, scientific evidence strongly suggests that life satisfaction increases, along with the same health and wellbeing benefits that a healthy diet, quality sleep and regular exercise can offer.
Proven links include a stronger immune system, lower rates of depression and anxiety, higher self-esteem, greater empathy, and a greater sense of trust and cooperation.
So how can volunteering help with social connection?
In a recent research paper which studied the experiences of people who continued to volunteer throughout the pandemic, many volunteers reported that their voluntary work helped them maintain a connection with others, kept them active and busy, and gave them a sense of purpose. How to develop social connections through volunteering
Look for volunteering opportunities you can do with other like-minded people, through a cause you’re interested in. Knowing that the people you’re volunteering with have the same care and concern as you can help create conversation and spark connection.
Look for volunteering roles that are ongoing or where you need to commit to a certain number of days, or over a certain period. It can take time to develop genuine connections with people, so spending more time together consecutively will give you more of a chance.
If you like the idea of making new social connections but find it a bit daunting to volunteer alone, pair up with an existing friend to help break the ice with co-volunteers. With the comfort of a friend by your side, you may form part of a wider group where together you gain a sense of belonging. For many, the year ahead may still be feeling a little uncertain but it is still in our power to make plans, look forward, and enjoy the small pleasures life can bring. Feeling close to other people is a basic human need and something we can all benefit more from after years of doing with less.
Search here to find a volunteer opportunity to put you in touch with a cause, a community and other human beings offering the social connections you’re bound to enjoy in 2022.