EDITORIAL: To better the world — and yourself — serve as a volunteer

  • Tuesday, June 26, 2018 10:33am
  • Opinion

For many, the last year and a half of national and world news has gone from difficult to hear to heart breaking. It can be hard to know, on bucolic Vashon and Maury Islands, how to take appropriate action when problems — from climate change to racial tensions to children being ripped from their parents’ arms — grow increasingly more alarming.

This week, in light of all that heartache, we are happy to include the story of Georgia Hartness, who at age 69, is fulfilling a long-time dream and joining the Peace Corps — this after raising three children and a career in teaching.

She was spurred on, in part, she said, by the idea of being a cultural ambassador.

Not all of us can join the Peace Corps, even if we might like to, but her action is inspiring us and is a reminder of how much good takes place all around us on this island and beyond — and how much more is left to do. It is a also a good reminder of just how valuable volunteering is — not just for the wider world and communities close at hand, but for those who volunteer themselves.

Researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of adults in the U.S. and found the more people volunteered, the happier they were. Their study was later published in the peer-reviewed academic journal Social Science & Medicine.

Compared with those who have never volunteered, the chance of being “very happy” rose 7 percent among those who volunteer monthly and 12 percent for people who volunteer once or twice a month. The benefits were even higher for people who volunteer weekly; some 16 percent felt very happy — an increase in happiness comparable to having a dramatic increase in income, from $20,000 a year to $75,000 to $100,000.

In fact, other studies have shown that the benefits of volunteerism extend far beyond happiness and the expected perks of larger social networks and better career opportunities, to some that people would likely never expect: burning belly fat, possibly preventing Alzheimer’s disease and lengthening life.

It is a good deal, all the way around.

Vashon is fortunate to have an number of people committed to sharing their time and talents, and we have noticed that like Hartness, many of them are retired, sometimes working harder now than they did during their careers.

Others of us have lagged behind in the volunteer arena, often caught up in work, child-rearing and caring for elders. But like Hartness, our time might yet come, when we venture off to a distant country or just a few miles down the road and begin changing the world — and our own lives as well.

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