Giving time for growth: Why volunteering to help nature is vital to our happiness

Volunteering at a local community garden (Photo by Micheline Khan)

Volunteering at a local community garden (Photo by Micheline Khan)

April 12, 2016 | by Micheline Khan

National Volunteer Week (NVW), which takes place April 10-16 this year, celebrates millions of volunteers across Canada and recognizes them for their efforts.

As NVW nears, I have been thinking about my personal motivation for volunteering over the years. Why was it important to me to give my time, talent or money to an organization? What were the external stimuli that sparked a desire in me to volunteer my time and effort?

Almost half (44 percent) of Canadians aged 15 and over volunteered for a charitable or non-profit organization during 2013, according to Statistics Canada. These volunteers contributed an average of 154 hours each, for a total of 1.96 billion hours. Clearly volunteering is not only about giving but should be more realistically seen as an exchange.

If you consider that most people find themselves in need at some point in their lives, then it becomes a little easier to understand that you may also be the recipient of someone else’s voluntary efforts.

I have volunteered at aviaries, green trade shows, math and English tutoring centres, wildlife research and rehabilitation centres and community gardens. I’ve planted trees and removed invasive species. Many of my volunteer experiences fall under the self-serving principle: I wanted to network, meet like-minded people and build my resume. But what about the rest?

I grew up in nature with a candid love for animals. I used to volunteer for the Urban Wildlife Centre in Grimsby, Ontario, cleaning up enclosures and feeding animals like raccoons, squirrels and possums. I didn’t play with the animals or hold babies all the time – though, I secretly would have loved to. My first and only concern was that the animals were fed, warm enough and did not become accustomed to human contact. After all, I wanted them to survive on their own when we released them back where they were found!

My satisfaction was derived from the knowledge that I helped rehabilitate and release a lot of animals back into the wild.

All of my volunteer experiences with nature and wildlife have served to connect and lead me to my current position with the Nature Conservancy of Canada (NCC). I now have the opportunity to help provide similar opportunities for people across the country to engage in nature and acquire all of the incredible benefits that I have had the pleasure of receiving and continue to receive today.

“People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being and happiness,” says Mark Snyder, a psychologist and head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota.

Like many other people I have come across, I sacrifice my time and resources for personal growth and happiness. I give my time because I believe serving others, the environment and wildlife will help me grow as an individual and help build a foundation for a clearer direction in my life. I give my time because I want to be happier and to be a part of something greater than myself.

Most importantly, I give my time because I believe in the cause. This, I believe, is the strongest motivator for volunteering.

As human beings, we are designed to be constantly growing and changing, so it makes sense that we surrender something as precious as time to help us flourish in our own personal journey. As volunteers, we are the roots that support and empower communities; so long as our efforts are accomplishing something, our talents are appreciated and we have made a difference.

The Nature Conservancy of Canada’s (NCC’s) Conservation Volunteers (CV) events gives you the opportunity to visit extraordinary natural areas across the country and to engage in hands-on educational experiences while contributing to important conservation projects.

Throughout 2015, NCC hosted more than 220 CV events across the country. Over 3,000 dedicated volunteers came out to assist with our stewardship efforts, resulting in more than 13,300 volunteer hours and contributing $231,500 worth of in-kind work to conservation efforts in Canada. Take a look at some of our upcoming events this year!

Micheline Khan

About the Author

Micheline Khan was the conservation engagement coordinator for the Nature Conservancy of Canada.

Read more about Micheline Khan.

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