Studies cite the physical, mental, and social benefits of volunteering—three ingredients to overall wellness.
One evening years ago, I drove back from Beach Haven, New Jersey, after spending the day cleaning out houses damaged by Hurricane Sandy. We were up early, labored all day, and went home late. But we bantered enthusiastically, invigorated by a day of helping people we didn’t know.
Then I took stock: I’ve coached Little League and Special Olympics. These days I run with Back on My Feet, an inner city program for the homeless. I wondered whether I volunteer to serve others or to fulfill a need of my own. I think it must be both.
Scripture tells us that those who give of themselves also receive. Volunteering benefits those who are served, but it also fulfills us as human beings. Studies cite the physical, mental, and social benefits of volunteering—three ingredients to overall wellness.
For Body, Mind, Spirit
Volunteering our time can translate to significant physical benefits simply by getting us off the sofa, out of the house, and moving our bodies. Volunteering steers us away from disease by lowering blood pressure, and reduces bodily pain by improving our functional ability. High blood pressure is linked to heart disease, stroke, and premature death.
Shifting focus to something outside of oneself eases one’s stress level, which in turn helps reduce the risk of disease. Several studies have found that those suffering from chronic pain experience a decline in pain intensity—and decrease levels of disability and depression—when they serve others.
Additionally, those with coronary artery disease who volunteer after a heart attack reported less depression and despair—two factors linked to mortality rates in such patients.
Volunteering has a positive effect on one’s sense of purpose and achievement. Studies show that volunteering helps people feel more socially connected, thus warding off loneliness and depression. As a result, volunteers benefit from improved self-esteem, self-efficacy, happiness, empathy, and an increase in one’s sense of control of his or her life.
Volunteering cultivates relationships and presents the opportunity for people of various backgrounds and religions to work together to solve problems or achieve a common goal. In return for sharing of oneself, we can improve social skills, enhance trust in others, learn new cultures, and grow our social network.
Good for Every Age
Parents can lead through example by volunteering with their children. Reports show that children who volunteer are likely to grow up to be adults who volunteer. Sociologists link volunteering to positive effects on grades and attitudes toward education, as well as reduced drug use and a decline in dropout rates and teen pregnancies.
As family members learn more about social issues, community needs, and government programs and resources, they can work together to better serve their community.
Volunteering gives seniors a sense of purpose in their changing roles in society by being physically and socially active. It helps them maintain a sense of independence. One study indicated that married adults who provide service to others maintain stronger, healthier relationships.
St. Teresa of Calcutta, who devoted her life to service for others, once said, "We ourselves feel that what we are doing is just a drop in the ocean. But the ocean would be less because of that missing drop." Giving our time in service to others, after all, is giving our love to the God who created us.