Selfless Volunteering: Much to be Thankful For

Many people find volunteering rewarding, but motives for volunteerism are different. Some people volunteer because it makes them feel better about themselves, whereas others are motivated by the service they provide to others. Such differences in motivation may not be trivial. Research in the journal Health Psychology suggests that those who volunteer to help others rather than themselves may live longer.

Research led by Dr. Sara Konrath at the University of Michigan found that people who volunteered for their own personal satisfaction had the same mortality rate four years later as people who did not volunteer at all, while volunteers with altruistic motives lived significantly longer. Data came from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which has followed a random sample of over 10,000 people from 1957 to the present.

Between 1992 and 2008, researchers tracked a variety of health-related factors, such as socioeconomic status, marital status, smoking, alcohol use, mental health and social support. In 2004 the participants were asked about their volunteerism over the past ten years, along with their reasons for volunteering.

Of those who volunteered for more self-oriented reasons, 4 percent had died, comparable to the death rate of non-volunteers (4.3 percent). However, of those who volunteered with a focus on helping others, the death rate was only 1.6 percent. This effect remained significant even after controlling for all the health-related variables.

While no one would argue with people who volunteer because it makes them feel better, the benefits of selflessness seem apparent. Happy Thanksgiving everyone.


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