5 surprising health benefits of volunteering

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Have you ever wondered why most people who volunteer have an overall more positive outlook on life? Giving back to your community and serving others through volunteer work can benefit your life a variety of different ways. My list below outlines the power of volunteering and its surprising benefits.

1. Volunteering affects your thoughts. Being able to connect with others, even animals, can improve your mood. Humans are social beings who require interaction in order to flourish. Without social connection, we are more prone to feeling lonely, which can lead to low self-confidence. Studies have shown that people who lack interaction with others are more likely to feel depressed and misunderstood. Volunteering is a positive action that can motivate you to be more altruistic and can also boost your mood. Sometimes a little push is necessary to put yourself out there and volunteer, but it will be worth it in the end. Volunteering gives your mind the opportunity to step away from negative thoughts and indulge in positive ones through interaction with others. Surrounding yourself with other people can also shift your perception of yourself and the world — you may even come to the realization that your actions have a profound impact on others’ lives.

2. Volunteering can lead to better health. Along with the benefits to your mental health, volunteering has its benefits for your body as well. According to a study done in 2011, individuals who regularly volunteered had a lower mortality rate than those who volunteered less frequently. More specifically, depending on the type of volunteer work, the mortality risk changed. Those whose volunteer motives were other-oriented had an increased chance of living longer compared to those whose volunteer work motives were self-oriented. This is just another example of the powerful effects that other-oriented volunteer work has on us and our bodies.

3. Volunteering enhances your own skills. Most of the time, organizations looking for volunteers are going to be patient and willing to teach you the skills needed for the position. When choosing which organization to give your time to, think about your passions and how your skills can benefit that organization. Whether it is knowing how to cook well, or being able to build things, your skills will be greatly appreciated. Volunteering can become a learning experience for both you and the organization, and you can build confidence by sharing your gifts with others.

Along with learning new skills and applying already learned skills to the task, volunteering can help you create many new connections. Meeting others in your personal life and being able to reach out in your professional life is a fantastic benefit to volunteering. If you’re stuck in a rut, feeling down about not being able to find a job, volunteering could be a springboard to your next position. Networking is an important aspect of being able to secure a job in the marketplace today, and volunteering can provide a great opportunity to meet other professionals.

4. Volunteering makes you feel like you have more time. A study published back in 2012 by a Wharton professor, Dr. Cassie Mogilner, defends the statement that the secret to productivity is volunteering. Volunteering can include a wide array of activities, like helping at a local animal shelter, giving back during the holidays or even just helping a family member in need. The evidence behind this phenomenon is based off several experiments Mogilner and her colleagues performed. The results were consistent: people who gave more of their time to others felt more confident, useful and capable of doing even more in return. Even though people would have less time for themselves after volunteering, they felt more effective with their time, and that increased their productivity levels throughout the day.

5. Volunteering makes you happier. There is no doubt that volunteering is a rewarding process — the relationship between happiness and volunteering is strong. Multiple studies have shown that the more people volunteer, the happier they become. As it was stated earlier in this article, humans are social beings. The relationships we form with others through volunteering can make us feel loved — that is known as possibly the “greatest single cause,” according to Michael Argyle. Being empathetic towards others was proven to lead to increased life satisfaction. Research shows that empathy is necessary to form a stronger social society and if people are capable of being empathetic, they are also more likely to want social change. Volunteering creates positive social change, which provides happiness to all those involved, and in the end, results in improved life satisfaction for yourself.

Volunteering spreads smiles to both the volunteer and those in need. Being of service has a multitude of benefits for your well-being, and provides goodwill to the individuals in the communities served.

Barbara R. Edwards is an internal medicine physician.

Image credit: Shutterstock.com

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