Happiness happens, part 4: Volunteering may lead to health, happiness

Happiness happens, part 4: Volunteering may lead to health, happiness

Individuals who want just a little more happiness in their life might want to try their hands at volunteering. According to a 2013 study, volunteers live longer and happier lives than non-volunteers.

The study, entitled “Is volunteering a public health intervention? A systematic review and meta-analysis of the health and survival of volunteers,” was published in the journal BMC Public Health. In this study, a team of researchers in the United Kingdom analyzed 40 scientific papers published within the last 20 years that focused on the health benefits of volunteering. Although previous research has investigated the mental and physical consequences of volunteering, this was the first study to conduct an intensive, quantitative review on the literature as a whole.

According to their results, volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than non-volunteers. Volunteers also demonstrated lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being.

“Our systematic review shows that volunteering is associated with improvements in mental health, but more work is needed to establish whether volunteering is actually the cause,” explained review leader Suzanne Richards, Ph.D., in a university news release.

In other words, correlation does not imply causation. Just because volunteers tend to live longer and experience less depression does not mean that the act of volunteering makes them healthier and happier. People who volunteer may have more economic freedom than individuals who do not volunteer. For instance, when individuals are working at two or three jobs, they can’t afford to take the time off to help others. Mental or physical illness may also keep individuals away from the volunteering sphere.

“It is still unclear whether biological and cultural factors and social resources that are often associated with better health and survival are also associated with a willingness to volunteer in the first place,” Richards said. “The challenge now is to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to take up volunteering, and then to measure whether improvements arise for them.”

If volunteering is indeed responsible for enhanced healthiness and happiness, what could be the reason? It may have something to do with getting off the couch – people who volunteer often go outside, make friends and swap smiles with strangers, all of which may contribute to their general well-being.

More simply, helping other people feels good. Individuals who volunteer may experience a greater sense of eudaimonic happiness, a form of happiness fueled by a sense of meaning and purpose.

Although volunteering can be highly beneficial, like most activities, volunteering is best performed in moderation. According to a study published in 2008 entitled “Volunteering and psychological well-being among young-old adults: How much is too much?” individuals who volunteered for more than 15 hours a week demonstrated a steep decrease in their life satisfaction and emotional health. In other words, when volunteering becomes a time-intensive burden, the benefits associated with it dissipate.

Regardless of whether or not volunteering increases happiness, it might be worth giving it a try. It won’t hurt, and it just might make someone’s life – and your own – a little brighter.

Sovereign Mental Health Services offers our patients a unique brain wellness program that provides insights and advice on how to achieve happiness through healthy living. For further questions, please contact 866-954-0529.

Read the previous entry in this series

 

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