5 Surprising And Scientifically-Backed Benefits of Volunteering

A new study suggests that volunteering might actually reduce stress. Find out what other unexpected health benefits you’ll reap just by lending a hand.

  • Brigitt Hauck

Cleaning up a local playground or serving dinner at a food pantry may make you feel good, but a recent Gallup poll suggests that volunteering may also make you less stressed.

Of the 100,000 American adults surveyed, 40 percent said they felt stressed or worried the day before being interviewed. However, only 34 percent of people who volunteered within the past year reported feeling stressed.

Additionally, Americans who volunteered scored nearly 12 points higher on Gallup’s well-being index than those who did not. Those who volunteered had an average score of 70, while those who did not serve in their community scored an average of 58.5 points. Researchers suggest that the volunteers’ increased well-being could be attributed to a greater sense of purpose and meaning, an opportunity to build relationships, increased physical activity, and a renewed perspective on life.

In addition to its possible stress-busting benefits, here are four more scientifically-backed benefits of volunteering:

1. You’ll be happier. While there are many factors that influence happiness, a 2008 study from the London School of Economics reported that, thanks to increased empathy and shifted priorities, people who volunteered (even as little as once a month!) were 7 percent happier than those who did not.

2. You’re more likely to live longer. A 2011 study showed that those who serve in their communities live longer than those who do not—as long as their motives for volunteering aren’t self-centered.

3. You’re less likely to experience depression. Focusing on others instead of your own day-to-day struggles may diminish stress and anxiety. A 2003 study from The University of Texas found that helping to improve your community lowers levels of anxiety and depression, especially in people over age 65. 

4.  You’re less likely to have high blood pressure. Researchers from Carnegie Mellon University discovered that older adults who spent at least 200 hours per year volunteering were 40 percent less likely to develop high blood pressure than those who did not volunteer.