Volunteer for a happier, healthier life

A lot is achieved by volunteers. We rely on them to rescue our injured mountaineers, to coach our local football teams, to mentor young offenders, to provide company to older people stuck at home or in hospital, to govern our schools and colleges, and for countless other services. 

At the same time as doing all this good for others, however, there’s a growing body of evidence to suggest that volunteering can also be good for the person who does it. The Third Sector Research Centre is currently using data from the British Household Panel Survey to explore the relationship between volunteering and mental well-being – early findings suggest a positive relationship. 

Meanwhile, a recent study by the University of Exeter (a systematic review of 40 existing studies) found a 22% reduction in mortality amongst volunteers compared to non-volunteers. They also found that volunteering was associated with improvements in mental health and ‘…had a favourable effect on depression, life-satisfaction and well-being’. Of course it might just be that people who are healthier and happier are more likely to volunteer in the first place; but even her positive reinforcement may be beneficial in any case.

And researchers at the University of Michigan, who are working to explore the relationship further, have suggested there could be a number of other reasons why volunteering might be beneficial:  it often involves physical activity, and any activity is good activity; it is a great way to meet people and make friends, and social connections are good for us; and it can make people happy, and happiness itself is associated with longer, healthier lives. So there is emerging research evidence to back up those New Year resolutions that making a commitment to do more for others, can be good for us too.

Angela Ellis Paine is a Research Fellow at the Third Sector Research Centre, University of Birmingham.