By the time people get into their fifties and sixties, they often feel that they’ve been at everyone’s beck and call for years and now want to indulge their own interests and pursue new projects.    

But frequently, when they’re beginning to think this way, they are also much in demand for helping out with various family issues involving elderly parents and being on call as chief babysitter for grandchildren.

Often, they’re still working too, so life is busy. 

However, gradually many of the calls on us diminish. We stop work. Our grandchildren 
turn into teenagers and don’t need to be collected from school.

Our parents die and we no longer have to allocate part of our week to check up on them or sort out their difficulties.

In fact, before we know where we are, we have much more time on our hands.  

We may then jump at the chance to go on walking holidays or city breaks, visit the theatre or cinema more often, join a band or a choir or take up other hobbies we’ve not engaged with since we were young.

But stimulating and enjoyable as these activities are, we can find to our dismay that they don’t give us the same fulfilment as caring for other individuals, having a structure and being useful – and when that happens, we often feel we’ve lost our sense of purpose.  

So, is there something we could do that would remedy the situation? Well, for many of us, the answer lies in volunteering. It’s a win-win situation. We help others but at the same time feel much better about ourselves for doing it.  

Citizens Advice, an organisation always on the lookout for volunteers, has a list on their website of the benefits of volunteering.

These include a boost to self-esteem, enjoyment at sharing skills garnered through life and work, and the pleasure of learning new ones. Also, and this may be the biggest bonus of all, most people make new friends.  

Other websites, such as HelpGuide,Org, the Royal Voluntary Service and the world famous Mayo Clinic in America also share information about how volunteering is not just a boon for recipients but also offers significant advantages to volunteers. 

I remember when I first heard an expert linking volunteering with good mental health. It was about 20 years ago at a conference on happiness in London. I recall that I was particularly enthused by one of the speakers, Professor Felicia Huppert, who is an international authority on well-being.

She told us that countries where there is a well-established culture of volunteering are the ones who routinely come out at the top of ratings when scientists measure contentment and optimism in the population of different nations. I became convinced as a result, that volunteering was good for us and everything I’ve learned since has confirmed that belief.   

So, might you consider volunteering this year? If so, have a think about what you most want to get out if it, and how you can best combine your interests with helping others. 

A lot of folk start by working in a charity shop and there is much to commend that – you’re on your feet a lot, which keeps you lively, and you meet loads of local people.  

But in fact, there are masses of possibilities, so do investigate what there is before you make a choice.

A good place to find out more is the excellent over-50s website, Rest Less (, which has a terrific section on volunteering, offering a wealth of options in admin, environmental projects, working with children and animals, raising puppies for Guide Dogs, and jobs in the culture sector such as volunteering in museums. 

If, on the other hand, one of your ambitions at this stage of life is to travel more, you might be interested in volunteering opportunities abroad. The Gap Years for Grown Ups website will give you plenty of ideas:

The fact is that when we’re younger we often feel too stressed and busy in our careers to be able to volunteer. Usually, we compensate by contributing money. But the passage of years alters everything and now we usually have more time, as well as a need for more purpose. 

I’ve found real satisfaction in becoming a member of the committee that runs Norwich Chamber Music. There are eleven of us, and we are united in our common goal to bring world class music to our venue at the John Innes Conference Centre in a series of concerts that run annually from September to May.  

I must admit that sometimes this takes far more hours than I had planned to give! But it’s never dull and is hugely rewarding.

And I feel useful.  And needed. And that’s what most of us want as we travel through our later years.