Volunteering Can Mean a Healthier, Happier Life

Volunteering is many things to different people. For some, it’s a way of life while for others it’s an opportunity to help community service organizations or to meet other like-minded people. You may be a volunteer through your company, your church, your social club or a group of friends. There are as many ways to volunteer as there are people who consider themselves volunteers.

Although volunteering is for most of us a very personal matter, it’s also a dynamic, close-knit community that stretches around the world and has its own publications, advocacy groups, educational enterprises, research and statistics.

For instance, the National Philanthropic Trust reports that in the U.S., 64.5 million adults volunteered 7.9 billion hours of service in 2015, time that is worth an estimated value of $175 billion. The top four national volunteer activities are fundraising or selling items to raise money (25.7 percent), food collection or distribution (23.8 percent), general labor or transportation (19.8 percent) and tutoring or teaching (17.9 percent).

Volunteering for Happiness

When researchers at the London School of Economics examined the relationship between volunteering and measures of happiness in a large group of American adults, they found that the more that people volunteered, the happier they were.

Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7 percent among those who volunteer monthly and 12 percent for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16 percent felt very happy – a hike in happiness comparable to having an annual income of $75,000-$100,000 versus an income of $20,000, say the researchers.

The happiness created by volunteering can also be measured by hormones and brain activity, according to helpguide.org. “Researchers have discovered that being helpful to others delivers immense pleasure,” the site explains. “Human beings are hard-wired to give to others. The more we give, the happier we feel.”

Volunteering for Health

As far as health is concerned, according to helpguide.org, volunteering helps you stay physically healthy. “Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not,” the site notes. “Older volunteers tend to walk more, find it easier to cope with everyday tasks, are less likely to develop high blood pressure, and have better thinking skills. Volunteering can also lessen symptoms of chronic pain and reduce the risk of heart disease.”

Along with better physical health, volunteering can counteract the effects of stress, anger, and anxiety, as well as increasing self-confidence and providing a sense of purpose. “You are doing good for others and the community, which provides a natural sense of accomplishment,” helpguide.org explains. “Your role as a volunteer can also give you a sense of pride and identity. And the better you feel about yourself, the more likely you are to have a positive view of your life and future goals.”

Millennials and Volunteering

According to a December 2015 article in Huffington Post, Millennials prefer to use their personal skills when giving to charity. The 2015 Millennial Impact Report, conducted by research agency Achieve, shows that 77 percent of Millennial employees said they are more likely to volunteer if they can use a skill or expertise to benefit the cause.

“When a Millennial gives an asset of any kind, including time, skills, networks and dollars, they view their assets as equal (value),” said Derrick Feldmann, president of Achieve and lead researcher of the Millennial Impact Project.

Millennials also make a difference in the workplace, according to the 2015 Millennial Impact Report. Thirty-one percent said they gave to a company sponsored program due to their passion for the cause and/or issue, and 29 percent participated in a workplace event as a volunteer. However they volunteered, 79 percent of those who volunteered believed they did make a difference.

Avenues for Volunteering

According to the National Philanthropic Trust, generally volunteers work through organizations to which they belong. The top four volunteer areas are for religious (34.2 percent), educational (26.5 percent), social service (14.4 percent), and health (8 percent) organizations.

For many people, opportunities to volunteer tend to come through three avenues: affiliations with community-service organizations, their church and their work. For example, the credit union industry has a long tradition of promoting volunteerism among credit unions and their employees. In fact, the Credit Union National Association offers a Volunteer Certification Program through which employees can become a Certified Credit Union Volunteer (CCUV).

One of the credit union industry’s largest charitable fundraising programs is CO-OP Financial Services’ CO-OP Miracle Match. This program makes available $1 million annually in matching funds for credit union volunteer fundraisers on behalf of Children’s Miracle Network Hospitals, which provides money for medical research and training, needed equipment, and support for families that can’t afford medical care at 170 hospitals across the United States and Canada.

Whatever your age or life situation, volunteering can help take your mind off your own worries, keep you mentally stimulated, and add more zest to your life.