Donating time to an organization helps you tap into a cause larger than yourself, build connections with other people, and become increasingly engaged with the surrounding world. All of those factors combine to improve a volunteer’s mental outlook, according to a study conducted by UnitedHealth Group.

People may volunteer to help others, but those donating time benefit in the form of lowered stress and improved spirits. 

The UnitedHealth study showed 78% of U.S. adults who volunteered experienced lower stress levels and greater feelings of peace and happiness. Another study, conducted by researchers at England’s University of Exeter Medical School, found that volunteering reduced a person’s risk for depression while increasing life satisfaction and overall levels of well-being.

Volunteering improves people’s moods in several ways. First, people who volunteer generally spend that time doing things they enjoy. If you like animals, spending more time with them through volunteer work is bound to make you feel happier. Those good moods will carry over into other areas of your life.

Second, people like to feel needed. Using your skills to mentor wayward youth or read to lonely patients in a hospital can help a volunteer feel like she or he has a place in the world. Volunteering fosters the sense that you are part of a community, and that your existence helps that community grow and prosper.

Volunteering helps to build self-esteem, creating feelings of happiness that seep into the very core of your being. 

People who volunteer also meet people with similar interests, helping to broaden social networks. Surrounding yourself with a community of like-minded people is important to living a happy, joyful life.

In turn, loneliness has been shown to contribute to premature death in senior citizens, according to a study from the University of Chicago. Volunteering helps to stave off feelings of isolation. It also helps people improve their social skills, if that has been an impediment to building a community in the past.

What volunteer activities have you found to improve feelings of happiness? 

Image by Official U.S. Navy Page via Flickr

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