Volunteering is generally one of the first things people associate with selflessness. And why not? The act of giving time and energy with no compensation is certainly uniquely generous. Yet when asked why they volunteer, one of the most common answers people give is simple: Because it feels good. Why is this? What is it about volunteering that makes people want to give so much? As it turns out, it’s a lot of things.
Research has shown that people who volunteer report that they are both happier and more confident as a result of their commitments to their causes. In fact, volunteering reportedly enhances all six aspects of emotional well-being (happiness, life satisfaction, self-esteem, sense of control over life, physical health and depression). According to a study published in the journal Social Science and Medicine, this may be because volunteering increases empathy and provides perspective on one’s socioeconomic status and opportunities.
Interestingly, volunteering doesn’t just make people happier. Studies have shown that as long as volunteers are not overworking themselves, they report greater feelings of physical well-being. Self-reported volunteers or charity workers also tend to live longer and have an increased quality of life. Whether this is because healthier people tend to seek out volunteer opportunities or because the act of giving improves health, the numbers suggest that volunteer work pays out in physical and mental well-being.
Not all volunteer work is created equal. Charitable donations provide positive mental stimulus, but active, behavioral altruism reportedly provides greater satisfaction. However, both of these have diminishing returns if there is no social connection to the volunteer activity. Connecting emotionally with the recipients and fellow volunteers improves the emotional payoff for volunteers. A group volunteering in a soup kitchen with a team uniform – perhaps custom aprons – will be more satisfied with their experience than people who independently donate their items or money to the kitchen, but do not engage with other volunteers. Professionals, like those at skguniforms.com.au, even have aprons that can be customized with insignia or logos. That way, you can represent your organization or group in style.
In additional to the increased lifespan, happiness and quality of life, psychologists have found that volunteer commitments actually improve cognition even years after the volunteer activity has ended. One study found greater cognitive outcomes nine years after participation in volunteer service during college when compared to former students who did not volunteer. The benefits are not restricted to younger people. In fact, older volunteers report more positive results from volunteering than adolescents and young adults. Lifelong volunteers also report greater satisfaction and more positive changes to their outlooks on life overall. Greater commitment to a volunteer cause only increases the impact to the volunteer’s life.
The benefits that people experience from volunteering are significant. Making positive impacts through a cause to which one is committed results in a better outlook on life, an increase in happiness, an improvement in long-term mental and physical health, and greater cognition years later. With perks like that, it’s no wonder so many people volunteer.