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How volunteering changed my entire outlook on life

 Hattie MacAndrews shares how volunteering taught her to appreciate the smaller things in life

Young woman volunteering at hospital
Updated: 7 November 2023
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When I started volunteering, I felt like I had a true purpose for the first time in my life.

I realised how good it feels to do good, and although my job as a life coach sees me helping people each day, volunteering during the first lockdown to help get face shields to those who needed them was a different level of feel-good.

As a coach, when I'm met with a client feeling lost or lacking purpose, I always recommend that they do something 'good' for others as a starting point - whether that be volunteering, cooking dinner for a neighbour, or writing a thoughtful note for someone who might need it.

Young woman sitting on a sofa looking stylish
Hattie MacAndrews works as a coach but found a new appreciation for life when volunteering

It's the simplest way to shift your mindset and gain a new perspective on your situation. Altruism boosts your feel-good factor and can help you to feel gratitude on a deeper level – something we could all do with more of.

Studies even show that being kind has an impact on our overall wellbeing, so where do those good vibes come from? “Kindness leads to the release of the feel good hormone oxytocin and happiness hormone serotonin, meaning we get a rush of good feelings when we’re kind to others,” says Jo Howarth, founder of The Happiness Club.

Being kind has also been found to increase our sense of satisfaction with life, as well as decreasing stress and anxiety. “It is a huge part of building emotional resilience,” Jo says. “The more we practice kindness, generally the happier we are.”

To practice what I preach, and feel the benefits being kind to others can have on our own mood, I spent six months volunteering for the NHS as a family liaison officer in the trauma department at UCLH. Here’s what I learnt.

Young woman volunteering at hospital
Hattie MacAndrews found a sense of purpose volunteering

My volunteering experience

When I was volunteering, I was based in the trauma unit and spent my days chatting with patients, reading books and organising visits with families and loved ones.

The role was varied, incredibly busy and no two days were the same. It was the smallest things that would have the biggest impact and often the most rewarding part of the role was running down to grab a patient's favourite sandwich from Pret or finding them a phone charger.

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I would do one or two shifts a week and sometimes cover the weekends if the ward was in need. The impact these hours had on me was remarkable and would always leave me with a renewed sense of gratitude for my own health and appreciation for life.

How volunteering taught me to appreciate the small things

As well as a daily reminder to be grateful for all I have (my health included), I learnt a lot about appreciating the smaller things in life when I was volunteering.

It's rare that we’re confronted with death and terminal illness, so it felt like an enormous privilege to spend time providing comfort and kindness to those during their final days.

During these conversations, patients would often share their happiest memories – most of which consisted of an appreciation for the smallest things in life, which we can often take for granted in our modern busy lives.

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They spoke about people they had met, loved and shared life with. There was never a mention of longing for more money, bigger houses or faster cars. These experiences forced me to shift my perspective on what was truly important to me, and what sort of life I would like to look back on when the time comes.

At the end of the day, our friendships and chosen family are all that really matters. I want to live a life full of joy and freedom, spending quality time with the people I love.

"As cliché as it sounds, being in the trauma ward was an instant reminder to live every day as your last, as we really never know what life might throw at us.

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How did volunteering make me happier?

Volunteering gave me the opportunity to focus on something bigger than myself, which shifted my perspective on life.

It's so easy to get wrapped up in day-to-day worries and feel overwhelmed with all the things we think we need to do. I was shown how incredibly powerful a small act of kindness can be.

hattie headshot
Hattie learnt a lot about herself through volunteering

I learnt that as humans we can communicate compassion through our body language and a warm smile. We all have choices, and previously for me choosing to focus on my own health would occasionally have slipped down my priority list.

I'm so grateful that I had this experience and I hope to never forget the lessons learnt. There are so many different ways you volunteer, from picking up a shift at your local foodbank to reading to kids after school.

You will never forget the time spent as a volunteer, and it will teach you more about yourself than you thought possible.

Find out more about the NHS volunteer roles here and find more from Hattie on her Instagram.

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