Volunteers

As cliché as it may sound, it’s also a fact: Doing good is good for everyone. Altruism is beneficial to your mental health, physical well-being and sense of belonging. A recent study revealed that volunteering for as little as two hours every week can be instrumental to your health. The same study found that out of all the do-gooders who spent their free time helping others 93 percent reported an improved mood, 79 percent reported decreased stress levels and 88 percent felt a boost in their self-esteem.

Even the simplest acts of giving back — the ones we often brush off as “not a big deal” or “just a favor” — are incredibly important. Volunteering your time helps to build communities, strengthen relationships and provide individuals with invaluable experience and self-awareness. It may also help you live longer. Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School reviewed more than 40 international studies and found that volunteering can actually extend an individual's lifespan.

Plus, the warm and fuzzy feeling you get after doing a good thing isn’t just your conscience. Research shows that volunteering positively activates neurons to give you that "warm glow.” There is actually a part of your brain that lights up when you help someone else or do a good deed. The mood-boosting neurotransmitter dopamine is then distributed, resulting in what’s commonly referred to as a “helper’s high.”

“Everyone’s purpose is to serve,” says Debi Keane, a retired nurse of 48 years and chair of the Anne Arundel Chapter of Facing Addiction, a national, non-profit organization dedicated to unifying the voices of more than 45 million Americans and their families directly impacted by addiction. “That’s why we are here. You’re missing 98 percent of life if you’re not being of service to someone else. I mean, what’s the alternative? Constantly thinking of self? That sounds miserable.”

Keane goes onto say how volunteering her time supports her belief system. “It’s all interconnected and what affects one, affects everyone,” she says. “If I see a need, I want to help because it benefits me as well. It doesn’t need to be on a grand scale either. Can you shovel snow from your neighbor’s driveway? Can you usher at your church? Society would be so much better if we all just helped one another out.”

But is all volunteering beneficial? Surprisingly, no. Research shows that motivation matters. If you’re only volunteering for self-serving purposes, you won’t reap the same rewards. So, if all of your giving back is clouded with feelings of resentment and obligation, then you probably shouldn’t expect all of those feel-good benefits. The same goes for selfish motivation. One particular study supports the idea that those who volunteer purely for personal gain like bragging rights don’t feel as good after the fact.

Humanitarian Albert Schweitzer said, "The only ones among you who will be really happy are those who have sought and found how to serve." So, look for ways to be of service each day, because opportunity is everywhere.