VOLUNTEERING YOUR TIME, money or energy to help others doesn’t just make the world better — it also makes you better.
Studies indicate that the very act of giving back to the community boosts your happiness, health and sense of well-being.
Here are seven scientific benefits according to recent studies of lending a hand to those in need.
1. Helping others can help you live longer.
Want to extend your lifespan?
Consider volunteering to coach a team, serve meals at a shelter, build affordable housing or mentor struggling teenagers.
Research has shown that these kinds of activities can improve health in ways that can lengthen our lifespans.
This is because volunteerism reduces rates of depression, improves our ability to manage stress, alleviates loneliness and gives us a sense of being needed.
All these factors can significantly affect our long-term health.
2. Helping others makes us happy.
One team of sociologists tracked 2,000 people throughout a five-year period and found that Americans who described themselves as “very happy” volunteered at least 5.8 hours per month.
This heightened sense of well-being might be the byproduct of being more physically active as a result of volunteering or because it makes us more socially active.
Researchers also think that giving back might give us a mental boost by providing us with a neurochemical sense of reward.
3. Helping others may help with chronic pain.
Studies are demonstrating that volunteers who suffer from chronic pain experience a reduction in their symptoms when they regularly help out others.
4. Helping others lowers blood pressure.
If we’re at risk for heart problems, cancer or strokes, our doctors often tell us to cut back on certain things: red meat, alcohol and stress-causing activities.
Rarely do they encourage us to add something to our lives other than exercise — which is important, of course.
I’m a minister — not a doctor — and I’d like to encourage you to add volunteerism to your routine as well.
This is because volunteers who work at least 200 hours a year have seen significant reductions in their blood pressure — sometimes as much as a whopping 40 percent.
5. Helping others promotes positive behaviors in teens.
According to sociologists, teenagers who volunteer have better grades and self-image.
This is because it helps teens develop and expand their compassion and concern for others.
6. Helping others gives us all a sense of satisfaction.
Looking for more meaning in your day-to-day existence?
Studies show that volunteering enhances an individual’s overall sense of purpose and identity — particularly if they no longer hold a life-defining role like “worker” or “parent.”
7. Altruism is contagious.
When one person performs a good deed, it causes a chain reaction of other altruistic acts.
One study found that people are more likely to perform feats of generosity after observing another do the same.
This effect can ripple throughout the community, inspiring dozens of individuals to make a difference.
All the world religions instruct us to be kind and generous in order to be good people.
Now there are at least seven health benefits of lending a hand to those in need, as well.
Taken together, it all boils down to this: We all rise by lifting others.
Issues of Faith is a rotating column by five religious leaders on the North Olympic Peninsula. The Rev. Kate Lore is a minister at the Quimper Unitarian Universalist Fellowship in Port Townsend. Her email is email@example.com.