Volunteering is popular among people of all ages—from students to retirees. What are the benefits to all of this giving?
Creating a Sense of Well-Being
It seems intuitive that helping others would make you feel good, but are there really health benefits? Studies have shown that volunteering can play a role in increasing your overall sense of well-being, alleviating chronic pain, and even reducing
In a study led by Peggy Thoits, sociology professor at Vanderbilt University, data was used from the Americans’ Changing Lives Study to examine how volunteering affected six different aspects of well-being. The study divided the 3,617 respondents into two groups: those who volunteered and those who did not. Comparisons were then made for levels of happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health, and depression. Thoits found that “people who were in better physical and mental health were more likely to volunteer, and conversely that volunteer work was good for both mental and physical health. People of all ages who volunteered were happier and experienced better physical health and less depression.”
Helping Chronic Pain
In another study, Paul Arnstein of Boston College and his colleagues evaluated the effects of volunteering on chronic pain patients. Pain, disability, self-efficacy (degree of confidence in the ability to control pain), and depression were all measured.
Their findings show that pain, depression, and disability decreased after volunteering, while self-efficacy remained stable. Several months later, the researchers found that the improvements continued without harm, suggesting that volunteering may help alleviate chronic pain. The researchers note that the participants reported themes of “making a connection” and having “a sense of purpose” when volunteering.
Researchers Marc Musick and John Wilson of the University of Texas at Austin, studied whether volunteering had any effect on depression. Like Thoits, they took data from the Americans' Changing Lives survey, but looked at three different years of data. They found that initially volunteering lowered depression for those over 65, and over time benefited all age groups. The researchers note that some of the protection from depression came from the social integration of volunteering.
Learning About Volunteer Vacations
With all of the benefits of volunteering, you may want to spend your next vacation doing something positive. Here are some points to keep in mind:
Location—Some people choose a location close to home or within the country, while others want to go abroad.
Type of challenge—There are many types of challenges ranging from physically grueling to intellectually stimulating. You will have to decide which is best for you.
Your skills—Your professional skills may be in great demand in less developed countries. Helping others may also help to prevent job burnout and improve job satisfaction.
Language—If contemplating travel to a foreign country, take into consideration the language spoken and your ability to communicate.
Length of time—Most volunteer vacations run from 1-3 weeks. Decide how much time you can donate.
Free time—Ask the organization you are volunteering for about their policy on free time. Will you have time to go off on your own and explore?
Please be aware that this information is provided to supplement the care
provided by your physician. It is neither intended nor implied to be a
substitute for professional medical advice. CALL YOUR HEALTHCARE PROVIDER
IMMEDIATELY IF YOU THINK YOU MAY HAVE A MEDICAL EMERGENCY. Always seek the
advice of your physician or other qualified health provider prior to
starting any new treatment or with any questions you may have regarding a