Volunteering is seen as a good cause, a way to help those less fortunate than ourselves, but have you ever considered the impact volunteering has on the volunteer? We have decided to find this out on International Volunteer Day 2014. Various studies argue that working to help others is good for our health and happiness – it even reduces mortality risk… So while city high flyers fight to win more money, the real win could be found in acts of selflessness.
Volunteering to help others rather than ourselves could lead to a longer life, suggests a study from American Psychology Association. Researchers linked volunteering to health by conducting a study with several older adults, both volunteers and non-volunteers, and then comparing their mortality risk four years later. Surprisingly, there was a clear connection between volunteering and health. Those who volunteered frequently and for selfless reasons ended up with reduced mortality risks four years later, while non – and self-centred volunteers experienced no such change.
Giving to others makes us less likely to suffer from mental illnesses such as depression, it lights up our lives and improves our physical functioning, and this is especially the case for older adults. Being around other people fights off loneliness and keeps us on our feet, so no wonder it’s a win-win.
Image courtesy of Dilara Pars, Frontier South Africa Veterinary Internship
But one thing is what’s going on with our body, another thing is the mind. Volunteering and giving, it turns out, is all about your motives and goals. We all know that people sometimes volunteer for slightly more self-orientated reasons – to network, to get a better CV or to feel better about themselves. However, if we are to believe the studies, being self-focused won’t win you any extra years on the planet, nor will it deliver the happiness we so crave to grasp. As the studies suggest, true joy and a long life are empowered by the joy of helping with the sole goal of improving the lives of other beings on the planet.
Personality holds the answer
Image courtesy of Frontier South Africa Sports Coaching project
But is it really that simple? Maybe not. Another study, from Washington University, dismisses the idea that volunteering itself holds some sort of key to a better health and argues that it’s specific personality traits in the volunteer that causes the good health – not the actual work. This can be linked to our motives for volunteering, as it’s often personality traits that determine the reason behind getting involved in charity work in the first place. So where does that leave volunteering? Can you just change your personality type and become a true giver?
We say yes. Change is always possible and no matter what the studies say, volunteer work still helps those it’s supposed to benefit, so even if people decide to volunteer for their own good, the work itself is a help. Furthermore, motives can change along the way and a volunteer fuelled by selfish motives could transform as a result of the work and come out as a different person. Nothing is given, change is always possible… And maybe volunteering is the perfect way to get rid of selfishness and learn to care for something bigger than ourselves?
By Caroline Edwards
Volunteering is always a great way to get more involved in your local community and give something back, but have you ever considered going abroad? The world is a big and as depressing as it may seem, there are a lot of suffering on the planet: poverty, violence, climate change, decline in wildlife species… Take your pick. Volunteer on one of our development projects or take part inwildlife and marine conservation. If you are lucky it will increase your life expectancy, bring joy to other people, and teach you a thing or two about being selfishness.
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