As environmentalists fighting to improve our planet, we are attuned to the multiple crises we are facing, whether it be climate change, single-use plastics, species extinction, overdevelopment, and more. It can be quite the uphill battle to try to save the planet, and this can sometimes cause us to feel big emotions like stress, anxiety, anger, and even despair.
However, the good news is that by getting involved and volunteering, we can feel happier, healthier, and calmer. And there’s science to prove this!
When we volunteer in our community, we can experience a physiological change called a “helper’s high”. This euphoric sensation happens when our brain releases endorphins, making us feel elated and excited. Giving back also stimulates the vagus nerve, which is linked to the production of oxytocin, a hormone that soothes us. As a result, we experience positive health changes including less stress and a boost in happiness.
Volunteering can also help us stay healthy and live longer, improving physical health such as lowering blood pressure. According to research, volunteers are happier and healthier than non-volunteers, and volunteering later in life can have a bigger impact on health than even exercising or eating well. Other benefits of volunteering include experiencing more compassion, feeling more connected to our community, gaining confidence and personal satisfaction, feeling empowered, having a purpose, being more grateful for what we have in life, and viewing the world from a broader perspective—all linked to greater joy and reduced stress.
Additionally, spending time in and around nature is beneficial to our health and well-being. The natural world offers solace and comfort, calming when we are stressed and uplifting our mood when we feel down. In fact, spending time outdoors volunteering enhances positive emotions and increases general health. Much of this is due to nature’s many healing attributes, such as vivid colors, invigorating scents, attractive patterns, soothing sounds, fresh air, and awe-inspiring scenes.
Sierra Club provides a positive outlet to make a difference and feel better at the same time. Whether you participate in a cleanup, planting, or trail maintenance locally as a group or create your own Team Sierra initiative to raise funds to support Sierra Club's work for climate, wildlife, and wild places, there are endless opportunities for environmental volunteering through our organization. You might also have a local Inspiring Connections Outdoors (ICO) program to get involved with, which empowers youth from communities with limited access to connect and reconnect to the outdoors. ICO helps create the next generation of environmental justice and social justice leaders through building community and increasing exposure to outdoor recreation, advocacy, and leadership training.
What other ways can you and your group get involved with environmental volunteering to feel happier and calmer? To discover additional ideas and to learn more about why nature is so healing, check out the book Finding Ecohappiness.