mental health

Be That Kind of Person

The old saying is: You have to give to receive. Seriously, there is scientific evidence to back this up. Volunteering is good for you, emotionally and physically.

Multiple studies support myriad benefits of volunteering. In a 2013 systematic review and meta-analysis of forty studies (including randomized clinical trials, the gold standard of research), people who volunteered had a 22% lower risk of death, as well as lower depression, higher life satisfaction and higher sense of well-being.

Even for people who work and think they may be too busy to volunteer: In a 2014 study, researchers conducted a survey of 746 workers, 35% of whom also volunteered for nonprofit organizations. Volunteers reported lower stress, burnout, and work-life conflict, as well as more positive mental health characteristics than non-volunteers.

The authors concluded: “Volunteering, albeit energy and time-consuming, may contribute to a greater sense of balance for people in the workforce, which might, in turn, positively influence health”

This all sounds great, but of course we need to present an alternative hypothesis. (This is science, after all.) A group of Negative Nellies from St. Louis hypothesized that the reason volunteers have better health and happier lives, is because the kind of people who volunteer are healthier and happier. They studied survey data from over 1600 people aged 55 and older, including personality traits, volunteer activity, as well as a number of psychological and physical health measures, and found no significant differences. They concluded that “volunteering may be related to health outcomes because of the personality characteristics of volunteers, not the volunteering experience in and of itself.”

So here’s my suggestion, based on the evidence.

If you want to enjoy a healthier, happier, longer life, then:

Be someone who volunteers. You can be that kind of person. You can make that choice. Think of something you care about or enjoy, and I guarantee, there is a volunteer opportunity in that area. This can be a face-to-face thing or an online thing. Give of yourself, and ye shall receive. It’s a win/win proposition!

Me at our local animal shelter last week, socializing a stray kitten prior to adoption. What could be better than cuddling a kitten? Talk about win/win!

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