Whether it’s giving back to the environment, treating your staff to a free lunch, or letting the impatient women behind you in the coffee queue skip in front of you, some weeks having a “giving” mindset can seem easier than others – especially when your own time, energy and money is in short supply.
We all know we should be volunteering, because science says so. Who doesn’t want to reduce their stress levels, increase wellness, combat loneliness and boost their self-esteem? Research has found that people who volunteer (as little as five times a year) found it had unexpected side effects, including helping them to lose weight, drink less, take less time off work, and improve their sex lives.
Putting someone or something else ahead of yourself has also been shown to trigger a ‘helper’s high’ (caused by a release of feel-good neurotransmitters such as oxytocin). So, why aren’t more of us doing it?
In this culture of busyness, it can seem hard to find time for self-care, let alone extend your caring attitude to an external cause. Lacking that loving feeling? Here’s how to trick yourself into being more generous – without begrudging it!
Find a volun-tribe
We’re more likely to stick to good intentions when they’re made with other people. This is why Megan Rowlatt, co-founder of Intrepid Landcare, launched a volunteer group aimed at Gen Y (and older) who want to give back to the planet. “When we first started, people were saying no-one is interested,” she says. “We started experimenting with our language, talking about finding a ‘tribe’, connecting people and going on exciting adventures.” In true millennial style, she met her co-founder, Naomi Edwards, on Instagram. Today, there are Intrepid Landcare groups across the country.
Count it as therapy
The latest iteration for Intrepid Landcare is a series of Wild Wellbeing Workshops, launched after realising that many of their volunteers were burnt out, worn down and lacking emotional support in their lives. The solution? Half-day events that combine an hour of earth-digging Landcare (for that ‘helper’s high’), with expert talks on self-care and emotional healing rituals. The first workshop will be held on the edge of the Royal National Park in Sydney at the Govinda Valley Retreat. “Combining conservation work with honest conversations and self-exploration is an amazing combination,” says Megan.
Turn it into a time hack
Short on time? Who isn’t! But giving up an hour, here and there, could actually give you more free time to play with – even if it’s just an illusion. As Wharton professor Cassie Mogilner wrote in the Harvard Business Review, her research found those who volunteer their time feel like they have more of it. In the same vein, research has found that people who donate to charity feel wealthier. We’ll accept that placebo effect, thank you!
Shop and stock-up
Every element of retail therapy – from clothes to baby products, shoes and food – can become a charitable activity. Startups such as Thankyou, TOMS Shoes, Yoobi stationery, and Who Gives a Crap toilet paper have made it easier to give back whilst ticking vital (or not so vital) items off your shopping list. Need more choice? Australian startup FOLO is a web browser extension that automatically donates money to a cause of your preference whenever you shop from one of its 700-plus partners.
Don’t overextend yourself
Givers begin to begrudge when they overstretch their resources. This is the message of Elizabeth Gilbert, who, in an interview for Oprah, revealed how she went on an “over-giving bender” after striking it rich. “I paid off my friends’ credit card bills, caught them up on their mortgages, financed their dream projects, bought them plane tickets, tuition, therapy, gym memberships, vehicles,” she says. Sometimes (“Well, twice”), she even bought them houses. The result? Giving-fatigue caused by lack of boundaries! The lesson? Scale it down! “I try not to give anymore until it hurts,” she says, “Instead, I only give until it helps.”