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Achieving Happiness by Helping Others

Teaching youth the importance of volunteering

Mauricio Jordan de Souza Coelho/Deposit Photos
Source: Mauricio Jordan de Souza Coelho/Deposit Photos

I pulled up to a red light and on the corner a man stood holding a ragged cardboard sign that read, “Poor, please help.” My daughter sat beside me and looked at the man. “Mom, I feel really bad for him,” she said as she reached into my purse and pulled out a bill. “Give this to him, please.” I looked into her eyes and saw compassion and a commitment to help someone in need. After giving the man the money, I noticed my daughter beamed with happiness, because she had made a difference in someone’s life.

When we help others we feel happy. There appears to be a direct correlation with overall well-being and giving our time, money or other resources to a cause that we are passionate about. Studies suggest that people who volunteer report better health and more happiness than people who do not volunteer. According to a study in Social Science & Medicine, a person who volunteers more than monthly, but less than weekly is 12% more likely to report being very happy and a person who volunteers weekly is 16% more likely to report being very happy. Volunteering weekly is like moving from an income of less than $20,000 to an income between $75,000 and $100,000! So, there are definitely some perks to helping others. With all of these benefits, it’s important to get youth involved in making a difference at an early age.

Gustavo Frazao/Deposit Photos
Source: Gustavo Frazao/Deposit Photos

10 Ways to Help Others:

  1. Volunteer. Whether it’s serving meals at a homeless shelter, or orchestrating a clothing drive, there are numerous ways for teens get plugged into the community and make a difference. There are even some great sites, such as that helps teens begin the volunteering process.
  2. Hand out blankets. There are over half a million homeless people in the U.S. Many of those are sleeping on the streets. While a single blanket may seem like a drop in the bucket to the vast level of need, a blanket can keep one person from shivering in the cold. No matter the size of the contribution, when you are on the receiving end it feels big. Plus, teens can learn that it only takes one person to start a domino effect.
  3. Help a neighbor. Too often we neglect those who may need us the most, our neighbors. Whether it’s taking over some warm cookies, mowing a lawn, or offering a night of free babysitting, one simple act can go a long way to make a difference in someone’s day.
  4. Beautify the community. Spend some time sprucing up the community, collect litter strewn on curbsides, plant some flowers in the park, or throw a fresh coat of paint on fences. Research shows that beautification is a top factor in establishing community attachment and belonging.
  5. Visit a nursing home. Day in and day out some of the most treasured people are often forgotten. One visit from an energetic teen can spark a smile and fond trip down memory lane. Whether it’s a lesson in history, or words of wisdom, our senior citizens have so much to offer our teens. This is a gift in which both parties are truly the recipient!
  6. Monkey Business/Deposit Photos
    Source: Monkey Business/Deposit Photos

    Hold the door open for others. Not only does holding open a door say “I notice you,” but it also says “I care enough to stop what I am doing to help.

  7. Donate gently used items to charity. What a great way to accomplish two things at once, clean out the closet and give items to those in need. Go through closets each season, you'll be surprised at how much youth can accumulate.
  8. Organize an event. Whether it’s organizing a local book drive for children in the hospital or collecting cans of food for the local food pantry, there’s always need that’s waiting to be filled.
  9. Pay someone a compliment. Nothing can turn someone’s day around like a compliment. A compliment is a great way to say “I recognized something really good about you…
  10. Give to charity. Saving allowance is a wonderful way to teach youth money management. What if youth would take a small amount of their allowance and donate it to something they were passionate about? Websites like “A Platform for Good” has a list of Apps & Websites to help teens give back and truly make a difference in someone's life.
Monkey Business/Deposit Photos
Source: Monkey Business/Deposit Photos
Gustavo Frazao/Deposit Photos
Source: Gustavo Frazao/Deposit Photos

So, there you have it, 10 wonderful ways teens can contribute and serve their community. Small gestures and random acts of kindness really do make a difference.


Borgonovi, F. (2008). Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness. Social Science & Medicine, 66, 2321-2334.

More from Raychelle Cassada Lohmann Ph.D.
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