Here's How Volunteering Is Good For You

by Pamela J. Hobart

When it comes to volunteering, there turns out to be no real conflict of interest, because doing good is also good for you. A new infographic by happiness training service Happify shows the surprising benefits of volunteering — including increasing longevity and reducing stress levels. Of course, it makes a difference how you volunteer, and why. Unsurprisingly, just going through the motions of volunteering, or volunteering because you're being forced to, have fewer benefits. And occasional volunteers don't seem to integrate the practice into their lives as fully, either. It may be difficult to imagine getting to a place in your life where you're volunteering regularly and enjoying it, but many people have done this before and find volunteering very rewarding.

There are plenty of opportunities left this year to get involved with some kind of charitable effort, but you could start in the new year too (probably, many people are all volunteered out by the time the holidays end, leaving charitable organizations in need of new assistance at a less glamorous time of year). But anything worth doing is worth doing well, so before you dive in, have a look at these evidence-backed suggestions from Happify on how to volunteer right. Following these guidelines can help ensure that your experience volunteering is a win-win for both you and the people you're helping.

Don't think of yourself

The quarter of Americans who volunteer see a bump in longevity, but only as long as they volunteer with benefiting others in mind. Those who volunteer for themselves (to put it on their resume, for instance) do not receive this longevity benefit.

Diversify your efforts

Older adults who volunteer for two or more different groups or causes reduce their risk of mortality more than those who are single-issue volunteers. It makes sense that diversifying your efforts would make you feel more meaningfully connected to the community as a whole, instead of being a niche interest participant.

Do the time

Merely occasional volunteering doesn't have the same benefits as committing yourself to a fairly regular schedule. Volunteering 40 to 100 hours per year is a good target — that means your one token weekend each Thanksgiving isn't going to cut it.

Money can buy happiness

If you can spare some money in addition to your time, then consider it! People who gave money to charity were 43 percent more likely to rate themselves as "very happy" than non-givers. Just make sure that the charity you choose is an effective one.

Check out Happify's full graphic below to see how volunteering on the reg can impact your overall happiness and well-being.

Image: Courtesy of Happify