Volunteering could be the real solution to being a happier person

This article is written by Phil Barker. You can view the original article on ExecutiveStyle’s website.

If there was something you could do that would make you much, much happier, improve your health and it cost you nothing at all, you’d do it, yeah? You’d be stupid not to.

It’s called “volunteering” and it really is a magic happy pill.

A joint study by the London School of Economics and Harvard University, Simple Changes, Big Rewards: A Practical, Easy Guide for Healthy, Happy Living, reveals the odds of feeling “very happy” rose seven per cent among those who volunteer monthly, 12 per cent for those who volunteer every two to four weeks and leaped to 16 per cent in volunteers who give back every week.

To put this into economic terms, this happiness spike is comparable to having an income of $100,000 versus $20,000.

Giving back

For a while now, my partner, her staff and I have been eating lunch once a week from the Two Good Company, where “you eat one, we treat one”. When you buy a lunch, Two Good donates the same meal to a domestic violence refuge or homeless shelter.

The meals are clever, elegant and delicious, created by a who’s who of celebrity chefs, from Kylie Kwong to Neil Perry, and they come in a cool jar.

Last week, five of us – including my partner Jayde and my daughter Lulu – volunteered for a day helping out at Two Good.

In the morning, we were putting together beautiful Mother’s Day Gift Packs. Like the food, Two Good gives the same gift pack you buy to victims of domestic violence and homeless women. Like the food, it is a beautiful, quality product anyone would be delighted to buy, let alone get for free.

Once in our groove, we were punching out boxes every thirty seconds. Given Two Good is making 5000 packs, we at least put a bit of a hole in the job.

By then end of the morning, Two Good had hundreds more completed gift packs then when we arrived.

Grand scale granola

We joined the Two Good team for a ridiculously delicious lunch at a long table, whipped up by sous-chef Megan Steve from “whatever was in the cool room.” We were happy to be there, they were happy to have us. My, did it feel good.

In the afternoon, we hit the kitchens. First task was making two types of granola, on a massive scale.

Megan could possibly have done with less of me yelling “Yes, Chef!” and “Hot behind!” but I could not suppress my inner Manu Feildel, it was so much fun.

Lulu and I worked on one recipe together. The first item on the list was seven kilos of coconut! We were working on a scale none of us ever had before. Lulu mixed the batch in a huge tub, up to her shoulders.

It was browned in two huge ovens on eight massive trays. The trays were cooking at different speeds. Megan told me to “keep and eye” on it so it “didn’t burn”. Er okay. Somehow, a unique combination of panic, frenzied activity, and burns, which helped with concentration, created kilos of toasty, malty, nutty, aromatic granola. I felt ecstatic.

Then she quietly pointed me at the biggest pile of the biggest pots I’ve ever seen, and asked me to “do the dishes”.

Good energy

Two Good also trains women who have been living in refuges, so the energy in the kitchen is as far from male “Gordon Ramsey angry” as possible. And in all my corporate years, I’ve never met a more natural leader than Megan. She was calm, warm and friendly but also somehow projected an air of absolute authority you couldn’t help but respect. And obey. She also has a lot of cool tatts.

As I wrestled oats, the girls finished packing hundreds of salad jars.

By the end of the day, the five of us had made hundreds of gift packs, made kilo upon kilo of granola and filled hundred of salad jars. We also stayed an extra hour to help with an extra salad order.

Later that evening

When it came time for Megan to shoo me from the kitchen, I protested.

“I’ve only got five more pots!”

“I’m going home now, Phil. It’s time.

“But …”

“It’s time, Phil,” she said gently. “It’s time.”

That night, we were all equally exhausted and elated. Jayde, Lulu and I talked and talked about the experience.

“Did you see me mixing the granola!”

“How many boxes did we smash!”

Once more, with feeling

The feeling’s still there. Two Good has the benefit of our time and effort. That’s a lot of granola and boxes they don’t have to worry about any more.

Homeless and beaten women are getting wonderful food and care packs and we were part of that.

We’re already planning our next volunteering day. It’s addictive.

There’s no doubt that when you’re being totally selfless, you’re doing the best you can for yourself.

Career Money Life offers free volunteering resources as part of our Transition to Retirement Programs. Talk to us to find out more.

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