Generosity can save your life–or at least prolong it. From preventing cancer and heart disease to building self-esteem, overwhelming evidence proves generosity is good for your mental and physical health.
Dr. Michael McKee, a psychologist at Cleveland Clinic, develops ways to enhance the inner healing response of patients.
“There are tremendous health benefits to giving,” he said.
Stress leads to illness. But McKee says giving can reverse its deadly effects regardless of whether you give time or money or if it’s to a loved one or complete stranger.
According to a University of California study and a separate University of Michigan study, older people who volunteered for two or more organizations were 44 percent less likely to die over a five-year period than those who didn’t volunteer.
That’s even accounting for other factors, including exercise and smoking.
“We know that the giving tends to reduce blood pressure, slow heart rate,” McKee said. “Again, giving reduces stress. It reduces depression.”
Researchers from the National Institutes of Health studied MRIs of people who gave to various charities. They found generosity stimulates the reward center in the brain, releasing chemicals that strengthen our immune system.
“There’s a release of endorphins,” McKee explained. “These are the kinds of magical chemicals that come from various areas in the brain and they flood throughout the system.”
“They’re cousins, basically,” he continued. “But some reduce pain, some seek out sick-looking cells and exert a healing effect on them. They have many different positive effects.”
Dr. Stephen Deutsch is the chairman of psychiatry at the Eastern Virginia Medical School. He said doctors commonly use giving in treating depression.
“We encourage people to not be so self-absorbed and to think about others,” Deutsch said. “We even tell people to practice being concerned and invested in other people.”
He said the more people give, the easier it gets.
“Sometimes they may feel initially that it’s fraudulent, that it’s not really who they are,” Deutsch said. “But over time it becomes more and more comfortable for them, and it does have a powerful therapeutic effect.”
So, people who feel powerless or worthless find a new purpose and value by seeing their actions help others, and they tend to live longer and healthier lives.
Volunteering connects you to others
One of the more well-known benefits of volunteering is the impact on the community. Volunteering allows you to connect to your community and make it a better place. Even helping out with the smallest tasks can make a real difference to the lives of people, animals, and organizations in need. And volunteering is a two-way street: It can benefit you and your family as much as the cause you choose to help. Dedicating your time as a volunteer helps you make new friends, expand your network, and boost your social skills.
Make new friends and contacts
One of the best ways to make new friends and strengthen existing relationships is to commit to a shared activity together. Volunteering is a great way to meet new people, especially if you are new to an area. It strengthens your ties to the community and broadens your support network, exposing you to people with common interests, neighborhood resources, and fun and fulfilling activities.
Increase your social and relationship skills
While some people are naturally outgoing, others are shy and have a hard time meeting new people. Volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice and develop your social skills, since you are meeting regularly with a group of people with common interests. Once you have momentum, it’s easier to branch out and make more friends and contacts.
Volunteering is also good for your work ethic.
If you’re considering a new career, volunteering can help you get experience in your area of interest and meet people in the field. Even if you’re not planning on changing careers, volunteering gives you the opportunity to practice important skills used in the workplace, such as teamwork, communication, problem solving, project planning, task management, and organization. You might feel more comfortable stretching your wings at work once you’ve honed these skills in a volunteer position first.
Just because volunteer work is unpaid does not mean the skills you learn are basic. Many volunteering opportunities provide extensive training. For example, you could become an experienced crisis counselor while volunteering for a women’s shelter or a knowledgeable art historian while donating your time as a museum docent.
Volunteering can also help you build upon skills you already have and use them to benefit the greater community. For instance, if you hold a successful sales position, you can raise awareness for your favorite cause as a volunteer advocate, while further developing and improving your public speaking, communication, and marketing skills.
Gaining career experience
Volunteering offers you the chance to try out a new career without making a long-term commitment. It is also a great way to gain experience in a new field. In some fields, you can volunteer directly at an organization that does the kind of work you’re interested in. For example, if you’re interested in nursing, you could volunteer at a hospital or a nursing home.
Your volunteer work might also expose you to professional organizations or internships that could benefit your career.
Volunteering offers vital help to people in need, worthwhile causes, and the community. While it’s true that the more you volunteer, the more benefits you’ll experience, volunteering doesn’t have to involve a long-term commitment or take a huge amount of time out of your busy day. Giving in even simple ways can help those in need and improve your health and happiness.