10 Amazing Volunteering Ideas That Will Make You Happier After 50
These are the best ways to give back and feel good, experts say.
Each new life stage comes with different challenges and opportunities for growth. In fact, according to the famous psychoanalyst Erik Erikson, known for his influential theory on psychological development, there are eight distinct life stages, each defined by a central conflict or crisis. In the seventh stage of development, Erikson contends that we must all work to find ways to be productive and give back to others as a way to avoid a stagnant period marked by a lack of growth. And experts say that one of the best ways to resolve that inner conflict and feel happier after 50 is through volunteering.
"From promoting cognitive sharpness to reducing the risk of loneliness and depression, these experiences not only contribute to personal growth but also to the welfare of the wider community," says Ryan Sultan, MD, a psychotherapist and professor, and the director of Integrative Psych and Mental Health Informatics at Columbia University in New York. "Integrating these activities into daily life can create a rich tapestry of experiences, relationships, and personal fulfillment that supports overall well-being in later life stages."
Not sure where to begin? Read on for the 10 best volunteering ideas if you're over 50, according to experts.
10 Best Volunteering Ideas After 50
By the time you turn 50, you've likely amassed a wealth of wisdom and expertise in your field. Sharing that with people of younger generations can be meaningful for both the mentor and the mentee, says Sultan. In fact, he notes that mentoring "enhances self-esteem, nurtures social connections, and promotes a sense of purpose and fulfillment."
Steve Carleton, LCSW, CACIII, a licensed clinical social worker and the executive clinical director at Gallus Detox, agrees that older adults "can offer valuable insight and guidance to those who are just starting out in their careers or looking to make a change."
2. Community clean-ups
Kristie Tse, MA, LMHC, NCC, a licensed mental health counselor with Uncover Mental Health Counseling, says another great way to volunteer past 50 is to join community clean-ups. She notes that because you can participate around your own schedule and can do it at a leisurely pace, it's an opportunity you can sustainably commit to.
"It helps you to get some movement into your day, allows you to meet new people, and makes you feel good to see your community being cleaned up," says Tse.
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3. Community gardening
Spending time outdoors in nature can help boost your mental health, increasing feelings of calm and well-being, says Laura Herman, elder and dementia care specialist at Safer Senior Care. By spending your time volunteering in a community garden, you'll enjoy this benefit and more.
Sultan says that volunteer gardening opportunities also "provide physical exercise, encourage community engagement, and foster a sense of pride and accomplishment," adding that it "allows for creativity, collaboration, and contributes to the beautification of local neighborhoods."
4. Senior centers
Experts agree that whether you read to seniors, help them with activities, or keep them company, volunteering in a senior center can be especially meaningful for people over the age of 50.
"Visiting a memory care community, long-term care facility, or volunteering through a hospice organization can be an extremely rewarding way to spend a few hours each week," says Herman. "The opportunity to connect with people in this challenging yet often sacred time of life can be deeply spiritually fulfilling."
Sultan notes that those who volunteer in senior centers are also likely to build their own empathy and compassion through the experience. "It enhances social connections, reduces feelings of loneliness, and can lead to personal growth through helping others in similar life stages," he explains.
5. Animal shelters
Sultan says that caring for animals "promotes emotional well-being, provides companionship, and strengthens empathy and compassion."
Besides all of the ways that volunteering with animals can benefit you, you'll also feel good knowing you're making a difference in the lives of the animals themselves.
"Volunteers can lend a hand at animal shelters by playing with animals, walking them, or helping out with fundraising and adoption events," notes Carleton. "Animal rescue organizations are always in need of compassionate individuals to foster animals or provide temporary homes for them while they wait to be adopted."
6. Food banks
Helping to meet the fundamental needs of others can be a deeply rewarding experience. This makes volunteering at a food bank a great opportunity for people of all ages. However, Tse says there are a handful of benefits that may appeal to those over the age of 50 in particular.
"I think this type of volunteering is good for those who are over 50 because it's often low stress on the body and mind, and you can provide more compassion from your own experiences to these families in need. I think a person who is older can bring in a sense of comfort and can show a lot of compassion," she explains. "You can also get a glimpse into more of what your community is going through, and it could lead you to find other volunteer opportunities within your local community."
7. Kids' programs
Spending time with children through volunteering may help you reconnect with your more youthful side, while also making an impact on younger generations.
"Working with young people is a great way for people over 50 to give back to their communities. They can volunteer to lead activities, such as coaching sports teams or helping out with after-school programs, which provides young people with much-needed guidance and support," says Carleton.
Tutoring or reading to children in local schools and libraries is another great way to volunteer with kids. "Fostering a love of reading and learning in the next generation is rewarding enough for many people, but hearing the kids' laughter and seeing the joy on their faces makes this volunteer opportunity priceless," says Herman.
8. Disaster relief efforts
Not everyone is able to drop what they're doing and commit to a longer-term volunteer opportunity. However, retirees may be ideally poised to make a difference in disaster relief scenarios, since they may have more time available.
Sultan says that it can also be deeply transformative to volunteer for disaster relief. "Assisting in disaster relief efforts taps into a deep sense of altruism and desire to make a tangible difference," he tells Best Life. "It builds a sense of community and teamwork, enhances self-efficacy, and creates an intense feeling of contributing to the greater good."
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9. Community leadership roles
Many retirees report that they struggle with losing their social ties to colleagues and others after they stop working. Getting involved in your local community is a way to create new social connections, while also providing you with a sense of goals and purpose.
"People over 50 often have the knowledge and experience necessary to take on leadership roles in their communities," says Carleton. "They can serve as board members of non-profit organizations, run campaigns for political candidates, or even work with local businesses to create volunteer initiatives. Since they already have a good amount of life experience, they can be great resources for their communities."
10. Environmental projects
When it comes to the environment, we should all be lending a hand—and given the state of global warming, this will only become more pressing as time passes.
"The environment is always in need of protection, and volunteers can help out by participating in beach cleanups, planting trees, or leading eco-friendly initiatives," says Carleton. "This type of volunteering offers an opportunity to work outdoors, meet new people, and make a real difference in the world. This can be very helpful for both the environment and for those over 50 looking to stay active and engaged with the world around them."