Research has shown that older adults who volunteer feel greater satisfaction with their lives and enjoy improved health.
The rewards that mentors receive are rarely considered in research on mentoring. Instead, the process tends to be conveyed in terms of the adult selflessly giving to the mentee in a one-sided relationship. It would be a mistake, however, to assume that the mentor gets relatively little from the relationship. And indeed, when one member derives little or no benefit from a relationship, it will become unstable and may disintegrate. One-sided relationships drain mentors of enthusiasm and leave mentees feeling burdened by the imbalance. On the other hand, when adolescents see that admired adults find it personally rewarding to spend time with them, they feel a new surge of self-worth and empowerment. Frank Riessman’s helper-therapy principle—that people help themselves through the process of being genuinely helpful to others—is particularly applicable to understanding the considerable rewards of mentoring.[faq category=31 template=accordion]
Erik Erikson has described the importance of “generativity”—giving loving care to others and making societal contributions—as necessary for healthy development in later life. Through mentoring, adults can blend their past experiences and wisdom. This can be true particularly for older adults, for whom the experience can provide a sense of accomplishment and offset feelings of stagnation and loss.
In addition to the sheer joy, pride, and inspiration that sometimes accompany mentoring, many volunteers benefit from the social interaction. Being around other volunteers and around youth who look up to them can improve the lives of adults.
The sense of efficacy and pride that can come from being admired and helpful may well be a driving force in the positive changes commonly observed in mentors’ lives.