Don’t have time for volunteer work? ‘A smile makes all the difference’

Does it take time to help people? Hardly for Belinda Inhulsen (61). It is a habit. Belinda helps people when she sees them having trouble getting on or off a bus, or when they can’t reach something in the supermarket. She compliments regularly, even to people she doesn’t know. “Recently there was an older lady on the bus, in very nice clothes and a nice haircut. When I got off the bus, I said, ‘You look beautiful!’ She blossomed, which made me happy.”

Keep the door open

Belinda is not the only one who enjoys doing good things, says Paul Smeets. He is professor of philanthropy at the University of Amsterdam (UvA). “People underestimate the power of small good deeds. Worldwide studies show that by doing something good, you not only make the other person happy, but also yourself. That effect is already there if you hold the door open for someone or give someone a friendly look.”

“I read another American study this week that shows that being kind to your colleague makes you less sensitive to stressful situations at work. Plus, people like you better and you build a better relationship with them, when you smile at them. This also applies to people you meet elsewhere, such as in the supermarket.”

Smeets advises: talk to someone who is waiting for the bus just like you. “A lot of people think that no one expects it, but often people like it when you do it.” Belinda says so too. “When I was younger, I didn’t dare to talk to people. Then I thought: they must think it’s strange if I say something. But people like to be greeted or to receive a compliment. And it’s so easy a way to make someone happy.”

Many lonely people

Smith says so too. “There are so many lonely people in the Netherlands. Your genuine interest, even if it only lasts a few minutes, can be the only real contact someone has for days. Then it makes his or her day. Probably without you realizing that.”

A talk or a walk. This is also what Hardy van der Vlugt does. Once a week, through the voluntary organization Handjehelpen, he visits an elderly lady who has started to suffer from dementia. “Her kids don’t live nearby and have to work during the week. Often it’s only an hour, sometimes two. We have a cup of tea, make some jokes, then go for a walk for about 20 minutes, and sometimes drink we’ll have another cup of tea afterwards. Then I’ll go home.”

“The other day her daughter said that the lady was a little grumpy and didn’t want anything. I came in and she immediately thawed out. Because I was happy, she was too. I can sit on the sofa at home or do something useful and make someone happy , then the choice was made quickly. I was always in sales, now I ‘sell’ the lovely life to this lady by visiting her as a volunteer.”

‘It should be contagious’

As with Belinda, helpfulness is in Hardy’s blood. “When I see people looking around, for example, I always get off the bike and ask if I can help. I get up when I see older people on the bus. Little things like that.” In the meantime, he is setting up a practice as an experiential expert in mental health care. He laughs: “There’s that helpfulness to it. I can’t get rid of it. It’s a disease that should be contagious.”

A few hours a week. Many people think they don’t have that time. “But in the Netherlands we spend an average of 3 hours a day in front of the television,” says Smeets. “Do the 2.5 hours a day and you’ll have 3.5 hours a week left to do something positive.”

Sabine Samsom (40) has a different approach. She is the mother of two primary school children and owns her own company, Finance Queen. So a busy life. But in addition, Sabine donates blood twice a year, she occasionally cleans up litter during a walk with a stick, and she collects money and things for the Food Bank a few times a year. It started at the beginning of the corona period. I wanted to do something good with the children who were at home.”

Cleaning cupboards

In a local Facebook group and via WhatsApp, Sabine asked if people would like to clean out their cupboards and donate food and personal care products. “I live in a village where people are above average, many of them have things in their cupboards that are about to expire. For example, because they forgot they have it, or because it comes from a Christmas package, but they Don ‘t eat. At the same time, people who don’t have money to buy food live a little further away.”

The action caught on. Together with her children, Sabine drove circles through the village to collect products from everyone, and one Saturday morning she drove to the Food Bank in two packed cars. “It’s not a big village, but it took us a lot of time. Now I do it differently. I look at my agenda and if I see that I don’t have anything planned on a Saturday morning in a couple of weeks, then it’s not something that needs to be done. I’m calling again, but now with the request to put the things at my door on Thursday and Friday.”

Douwe Egberts points

Another time she collected cards from the Postcode Lottery, which people could use to buy vegetarian groceries at Albert Heijn for €12.50. “We don’t have an Albert Heijn in the village, so those cards would go in most people’s bins. I was able to do shopping for the Food Bank for a few hundred euros.”

A year ago she collected Douwe Egberts points. “They have a lot of people at home, but they don’t use them. I got a huge amount of points. My son’s class, then group 7, sorted them so that I all had bundles with 1000 points. I exchanged them, I could transfer about 500 euros to the Food Bank.

It is good for the Food Bank and its customers, but also good for her own children, says Sabine. “They learn that it’s good to do something for someone else, even if you don’t necessarily get something in return. The kids think it’s normal how we live. Little things like that make them see that it’s not the case. This is how I take them with me when I donate blood. We have to do it together, without donors there is no blood for people who need it. And without help, no food in the Food Bank. What a hassle it is to give once in a while a helping hand?”

Does it make a difference if you do big or small things? Professor Paul Smeets says no. “It mainly depends on what you can do. If a millionaire gives 100 euros to a charity, I’m not impressed. He probably won’t either. But if a person on a minimum income gives 10 euros, then the feeling of happiness is probably greater. That person has really done something good.”

Not subject to inflation

What also matters is how often you do something. “Think about holding a door open, smiling at someone or having a chat with the street sweeper. For yourself, these are all small moments of happiness. You can’t live off that for weeks. So try to do something good a few times a day .”

The good thing is: the sense of happiness you get as a result is not subject to inflation. You get used to the feeling of happiness you get from buying things. But doing good doesn’t get boring and you get a positive feeling every time.”

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