At United Way of Salt Lake, we know that volunteering helps to build communities where everyone can succeed; the advantages for students, families, and schools are well known. What’s less well known is the positive effect volunteering has on the well-being of those who donate their time. We’ve got opportunities for a wide range of interests – see them here.
Volunteering provides opportunities for connection, improvement, and even fulfillment. And that applies to those volunteering as well as those being served. Studies show that regular volunteering makes significant and lasting improvements in the well-being of the volunteers.
People who volunteer report:
- Higher rates of good physical health
- Higher life satisfaction
- Increased lifespan
- Lower rates of depression
- Less loneliness
- Greater feelings of power, support, and knowledge
- Increased self-esteem
- Greater affiliation with social groups
- A greater sense of purpose and appreciation
How Volunteering Increases Your Happiness
According to a study done among American adults by the London School of Economics, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—an increase in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000. Therefore, they found the more people volunteered, the happier they were.
Scientists have researched how these positive effects come about. In 2002, Dr. Robert Cummins published the theory of subjective well-being homeostasis. The theory posits that there is a set point of well-being for each person and that many factors affect how that level of well-being is achieved and maintained. This measurement of well-being lies within a range, and as long as an individual is within that range, they provide an unchanging level of positive/activated mood. This can be affected by moment-to-moment fluctuations in emotional reactions to ideas or events. These emotions can shift someone out of their homeostatic range, where the person feels more or less positive about themselves than normal. Research was done in 2003 to find what best serves as a support for self-esteem. Evidence showed that volunteering enhances individual well-being and contributes to the theory of subjective well-being homeostasis.
1. Volunteering Connects You to Others
Volunteering is a great way to form strong relationships and meaningful connections. It creates the opportunity to increase social and relationship skills and provides a way to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships by participating in a shared activity. It allows you to meet new people, strengthens preexisting ties to the community, and broadens your support network. Volunteering also fortifies families by teaching children to give back and be outward-focused.
2. Volunteering is Good for Your Mind and Body
Volunteering increases self-confidence, combats depression, and helps physical health. Being a volunteer gives one a sense of control and accomplishment, which boosts self-esteem. The volunteer role also gives one a sense of identity and helps fight social isolation, a key risk factor for depression. Studies have found that those who volunteer have a lower mortality rate than those who do not, even when considering factors like the health of the participants. Volunteering has also been shown to lessen symptoms of chronic pain or heart disease.
3. Volunteering Can Help Your Career
If you’re considering a career change, volunteering can provide experience in a new expertise. In some fields, you can volunteer directly at an organization that does the kind of work you’re interested in. Even if you don’t plan to change careers, volunteering can help you in your career by giving you the opportunity to improve valuable workplace skills like communication, teamwork, and organization. Many volunteer opportunities provide training that can help you build on skills you already have and show you how to put them to use to benefit the greater community.
4. Volunteering Brings Fun and Fulfillment to Your Life
Volunteering gives opportunities to learn, grow, and explore interests and passions. It can inspire creativity and provide renewed motivation. Volunteering can be a break from work, a chance to do (or share) something you enjoy, and will give you the satisfaction of knowing that you’re doing something good. Being part of something bigger than yourself gives a sense of purpose and builds confidence while doing good provides the unmatched sense of accomplishment that comes from acting from a place of kindness and compassion.
See what volunteering can do for you. Sign up for a volunteer opportunity at volunteer.uw.org.
By Karsyn Britsch, UWSL Hope Corps Intern