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3 Surprising Health Benefits of Volunteering

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3 Surprising Health Benefits of Volunteering A sense of purpose, meeting new people, developing certain skills, building up your resume experience – there are a lot of great reasons to volunteer. But do you also know the research behind the health benefits of volunteering?

Yup, a healthier, happier you might be just around the soup kitchen corner, according to the Doing Good is Good for You volunteeer study. Volunteer respondents in the joint study between UnitedHealthcare and VolunteerMatch reported improved health, happiness, and well-being.

Greg Baldwin – the president of VolunteerMatch, an engagement network that connects volunteers and corporations with in-need organizations – isn’t surprised by the reported health benefits of volunteering. Thinking back on his early volunteerism with his father’s rotary club, then 8-year-old Baldwin and co. fixed up a mini-golf course for underprivileged kids at Camp Goodwill in upstate New York, and that “feel good” feeling was pretty instant.

“Once we were done, we sat and ate lunch with some of the campers who would be spending their upcoming summer at the camp,” says Baldwin. “While I enjoyed volunteering that morning, it was the lunch that left a lasting impression. We all came together to spend our Saturday doing something good for the future of those kids. That touched me, and has been something that stayed with me since.”

So, where do you start? Baldwin suggests following your interests and passions, applying your skills and experience, and not getting overwhelmed by time commitments and the nearly unlimited opportunities (a site like VolunteerMatch can help with that).

“Volunteering is a little bit like exercise. Once you try it — or once you’ve had a meaningful and rewarding volunteer experience — you’re likely to do it again,” he says. “Spend some time learning about these organizations, then find something that really speaks to you. Following your passion and interests are the keys to creating meaningful and rewarding relationships.”

Including a potentially healthier, happier relationship with yourself. In elaborating on the health benefits of volunteering, here’s what the volunteers in the Doing Good is Good for You study reported:

So, why don't more us volunteer? “Ironically, we’re pretty bad at knowing the things that truly make us happy,” says Baldwin. “We tend to think happiness comes from fame and fortune, however, research proves that isn’t the case. What’s surprising to many are, often, the things that make us happiest are the simplest in the world. Research shows that people who find the time to give back are happier than those who don’t. According to the study, of U.S. adults who volunteer, 93% report an improved mood, 79% experience lower stress, and 78% feel they have greater control over their health and well-being.”

“You don’t become happy by focusing on the goal of happiness. You become happy by focusing on giving back, having a sense of purpose, friendships, etc.,” says Baldwin. “Not only has science shown volunteering makes you feel happier, it’s also illustrating how volunteering makes you healthier. 75% of adults who volunteer, for example, feel physically healthier after volunteering. We found that volunteering isn’t just good for the community; it’s also good for employees, leaving them feeling happier and healthier, and resulting in better productivity and reduced sick time. We’re huge champions of businesses that give their employees volunteer time off (VTO) and equip their employees with opportunities to pursue their passions.”

This one should resonate with ye old college student and full-time workers juggling continuing ed courses: mitigating stress and anxiety. “According to the study we recently published, 94% and 88% of people who volunteer note an improvement in mood and self-esteem, respectively, and 79% experience lower stress levels,” says Baldwin.

We’ll high five (a helping hand) to that.

For more information on the health benefits of volunteering and to sign up for volunteer opportunities in your area, head to VolunteerMatch.org.


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Photo credit: Habitat for Humanity volunteers via Tulane University