No doubt at some point in your life you have volunteered and freely given your time and life energy to a cause you considered worthy.
But perhaps you’ve never thought about how that act of service benefited you. Normally, serving through volunteering is about the need of another and our willingness to contribute toward it without asking or requiring anything in return.
Yet a host of studies have uncovered an encouraging relationship: there are, it seems, tangible health benefits that come with volunteering and serving others.
Several studies have shown that “those who give support through volunteering experience greater health benefits than those who receive support through these activities.”*
Consider the remarkably similar statement made by Jesus long before social science was a discipline, “It is more blessed to give than to receive” (Acts 20:35).
Consider this statement made by Jesus long before social science was a discipline.
Research at the University of Michigan has shown an association between service and mortality rate—the rate of death in a population. According to the findings, “mortality was significantly reduced for individuals who reported providing instrumental support to friends, relatives, and neighbors, and individuals who reported providing emotional support to their spouse.”
The benefits extend to mental health as well, researchers at Duke University tell us. The study found “statistically significant, positive relationships between volunteering and lower levels of depression” for people over 65 years old. Meanwhile a study at the University of Calgary found that “people who did volunteer work for at least one hour a week on a regular basis were 2.44 times less likely to develop dementia than the seniors who didn’t volunteer.”
Why does volunteering lead to health benefits? Among possibilities is a link between voluntary service and having a sense of purpose. “Evidence suggests that volunteering has a positive effect on social psychological factors, such as one’s sense of purpose.”
A recent study showed that having a higher purpose in life led to a lower risk of stroke within a four-year follow-up period. Meanwhile, another study suggests that having a strong sense of purpose might be protective against diabetes, since it might help keep blood sugar levels down.
The list of potential benefits is much longer. That’s the good news.
The bad news is that not everyone is taking advantage of this benefit. Only a third of the population in the U.S. volunteers at all, and of those who do volunteer, 15 percent end up doing 50 percent of the work.
So consider this a collective challenge. Let’s take a moment to consider some of the ways in which we can voluntarily serve the needs of others. Consider also nearby organizations, not the least of which is our local church, and how we can offer ourselves in service.
Whatever we decide to do will be—as it turns out—mutually beneficial.
*Footnotes are cited on the online version of this article.
Costin Jordache is news editor and communication director for Adventist Review Ministries.