Help Others, Help Yourself

Four unexpected benefits of volunteering

Woman doing volunteer work outside

Many of us want to make the world a better place. The good news is that the desire to do good no longer needs to conflict with the desire to care for yourself, your family or even your day-to-day responsibilities. In fact, a wealth of recent research shows, quite resoundingly, that those who help others help themselves even more.

Lower stress levels, higher self-esteem, improved heart health and longer life expectancy are only some of the rewards reaped by volunteers. Here's a closer look at some surprising ways volunteering can improve your life.

1. Live longer

There's no shortage of anecdotal evidence that suggests helping others hoists the helper's spirits and keeps them more active, socially and physically. In UnitedHealth Group's 2013 Health and Volunteering Study, for example, 94 percent of people who volunteered reported that giving time improves their mood. In recent years, though, volunteering has earned its place alongside exercising and eating right as a proven method for producing positive health outcomes. Consider this study published in Psychology and Aging, which revealed that volunteering reduces your death risk by 25 percent, even when external factors such as medical history are considered.

2. Live better

Of course, if active volunteers live longer, they likely make good health decisions. Researchers at Harvard University's School of Public Heath have explored the relationship between volunteering and health care use of U.S. adults ages 51 and over. Among the findings: female volunteers were 53 percent more likely to get mammograms, and male volunteers were 59 percent more likely to receive prostate exams. Additionally, volunteers far outpaced non-volunteers in getting flu shots and cholesterol checks, and they spent 38 percent fewer nights in hospitals.

Better yet, you don't have to be on the plus side of middle age to enjoy the health benefits of volunteering. In a study of Canadian 10th graders who volunteered at an after-school program for kids, researchers found that those who gave time lost weight and had improved cholesterol profiles compared to peers who didn't volunteer.

3. Work better

Volunteering can also boost your career heath. Volunteer work enables you to expand your skill set, whether you're serving as a teacher to kids or adults, fine-tuning budgets, managing committees or working on a construction crew. And you'll do so while showcasing the kind of generosity, commitment and leadership that employers crave. In fact, those who influence hiring decisions heavily favor civic-minded candidates. According to Deloitte’s Volunteer Impact Research, 80 percent of hiring influencers asked said they believe active volunteers are more leadership ready, and 86 percent reported that including volunteer experience on a resume makes it more competitive.

4. Do more with less

Which brings us back to time. It might seem counterintuitive, but when it comes to the psychological impact of volunteering, it is subtraction by addition, according to UCLA professor Cassie Mogilner, who studied the effects of volunteering during her tenure at University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School. Giving your time to help others, she wrote, "can make you feel more 'time affluent' and less time-constrained."

Find the right opportunity

Ready to connect with or create a volunteer opportunity? Thrivent can help you get started through Thrivent Action Teams or Thrivent Builds.