Want to feel happier? Volunteer!
According to research, volunteers are happier than the rest of us. Not only this, but the more they volunteer, the happier they feel. Across Australia, more than six million men and women volunteer their time and services – that’s a lot of happy people.
So what is it about volunteering that causes this level of elation? Researchers have proposed a range of different theories, but the leading logic is that through helping and resolving a problem for others, we experience a sense of satisfaction that simply cannot be attained in any other way.
Volunteering is commonly associated with charity organisations, but it also plays an important role at the University of Melbourne. Each year more than 1,000 people offer their time, knowledge and experience to help our current students and alumni. Providing one-on-one mentoring, hosting career webinars, participating on alumni association committees, assisting student societies to organise their events – these are just some of the ways they give back. But are they as happy as the researchers say? We sat down with alumna Dr Jessie Wong to find out what inspires her to volunteer for the University of Melbourne.
“For me, volunteering is not something that I feel obliged to do, it’s something that comes naturally to me because of the examples I had around me during my studies and now professionally.”
Jessie graduated with a Bachelor of Commerce (Hons) degree in 2000, before going on to complete her PhD at Monash University. These days she is Partner with KPMG China spending her time in the areas of Public Policy and Regulatory Affairs and Professional Practice (Audit). Despite her demanding schedule, she still finds time to participate on the Faculty of Business and Economics (FBE) Alumni Council and mentor young alumni. Most recently she established the University’s Alumni Association in Beijing.
“For me, volunteering is not something that I feel obliged to do, it’s something that comes naturally to me because of the examples I had around me during my studies and now professionally,” Jessie said. She’s talking about her own mentors – a professor from the FBE, who would later become her PhD supervisor, and her career mentor. “My mentors were exemplary in a lot of ways, and shared similarities. Both were selfless in volunteering their time and helped many students – and not always in ways that received recognition publically. I realised very early on that it takes a lot for people to give up their time that way – outside of what’s already demanded of them.” The commitment and passion demonstrated by her own mentors inspired her to do the same.
Now a mentor herself, Dr Wong said it’s the personal interactions that are the highlight of her work. “Volunteering has grown to be more about developing relationships,” she said. “I work with young Chinese students and alumni. They’re a unique group, because they face very different challenges – some of which we hear about, some of which we don’t.”
“She got the job! The person I see today is ready to take on the world.”
“My very first mentee was an international Masters student when I met her,” said Jessie. “She was close to graduating and felt quite lost, lacking direction on how to started to look for a job upon returning to China. She didn’t fully realise the challenges waiting for her and where to get started, including details like putting together a CV in Chinese. We worked together to understand the employment process in China, which is different to what she’d learnt in Australia. It ended up being a two-year process – from undertaking internships to get herself back into the culture in China and then finally interviewing with an international accounting firm. She got the job! The person I see today is ready to take on the world,” said Jessie, “and what delights me the most is that, because of the experience, she has decided to become involved in the Beijing Alumni Association and to volunteer her time.”
The Beijing Alumni Association is only a few months old, but Jessie has big plans for it. “I see the Association as being more than just a social club – I see it as being a voice for alumni here. We hope to influence and grow the University’s efforts in alumni engagement,” she said. “We want to be the gravity that pulls all of our Beijing alumni together.”
“Volunteering is something that you do to stay mentally fit. It feels very, very good to be actively helping others.”
Through giving her time as a volunteer, Dr Wong continues to make an important contribution to alumni engagement with the University of Melbourne. She’s assisted young alumni to blossom in their careers and has created a voice for Beijing alumni. So is she happy? You bet. “Volunteering is a bit like exercise,” Jessie said. “You have to do that to stay fit. Volunteering is something that you do to stay mentally fit. It feels very, very good to be actively helping others. ”