Volunteering more makes for a more fulfilling life.

While a brisk fall hike, an intense yoga session, or a day on the slopes can work wonders for your mental health, sometimes you need a little extra boost to feel complete. That's because within us all is a need to feel like we're contributing to the benefit of the general well-being of others – whether that be our family, our tribe, our company, our country, or our world. Like the Dalai Lama has said, "Whether we like it or not, there is hardly a moment of our lives when we do not benefit from others’ activities. For this reason, it is hardly surprising that most of our happiness arises in the context of our relationships with others.”

So it comes as no surprise that contributing to a cause promotes feelings of harmony, self-worth, and purpose. The only problem? Where to start? 

That's the exact challenge Dan Topek, vice president of corporate communications for Travelocity, faced. He told the American Psychological Association that he was missing something in his day-to-day life and that he felt like there was something else he could be doing to contribute to the world. Instead of resigning, though, he decided to begin a new program called Travel for Good, which allows people to blend traveling and volunteering. 

The construction of the program required many employees to volunteer their ideas, work outside of work, and secure grants, but that didn't seem to matter. The need to help was there, the employees could use their talents, and it was made accessible. 

"We've gotten a lot of employees involved in running it," Toporek told the APA. "We're really excited, so we don't mind putting in the extra time."

It was ambitious to bet people would give up precious vacation time and gratuitous amounts of their hard-earned cash to help someone out, but the program has been a resounding success. Since its launch in 2006, the program has seen great success with Globe Aware – a non-profit 'voluntourism' organizer – reporting that they've seen a 33 percent increase in their registrations. Earthwatch, another similar organization, saw an uptick of about 40 percent. 

And that has believers in the individual as a rational, self-interested being perplexed – okay, economists, that was a half-joke. 

Furthermore, University of Minnesota psychologist Mark Snyder adds that in the United States one in three adults spend some of their time volunteering. So it's obvious people want to help and find it rewarding, but finding the right volunteer opportunity can be a challenge. Not everybody has access to the resources to start your own voluntourism site, so what can you do? 

Luckily for us, United Way Worldwide has partnered with thousands of organizations so that you can satisfy your agenda, and help those you feel passionate about helping. Think of it as the largest volunteer coordinator, that's more than just travel-focused. So if you're looking to get involved but don't know how, just give your local United Way a call. 

What are your thoughts? Dare I ask, is volunteering for your more altruism or more egoism? Where do you like to volunteer? Let us know in the comments below! 


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