Help Yourself by Helping Others: Achieve Your New Year’s Resolution to be Healthier and Happier Through Volunteering with a Local Charity

New Year’s is a time when many of us reflect on what we accomplished during the previous year and focus on what we hope to do better in the future. These resolutions are frequently centered around self-improvement, and they tend to fall by the wayside before we reach Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. One way to avoid this common cycle and achieve lasting change is to create a sustainable plan of charitable giving that includes volunteering with a local charity.

Volunteering to help those in need while strengthening your local community is increasingly recognized as a successful path to self-improvement. When making resolutions, we often struggle to achieve lasting change in our lives because we put too much emphasis on ourselves and habits that we either want to instill or break. One way to achieve change in our lives is by giving back. Volunteerism helps to transform our lives because when we focus on helping others, we are actually helping ourselves.

UnitedHealth Group[1] commissioned a national survey of 3,351 adults in 2013, and found that the overwhelming majority of participants reported feeling mentally and physically healthier after a volunteer experience.

  • 76 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering has made them feel healthier.
  • 94 percent of people who volunteered in the last twelve months said that volunteering improved their mood.
  • 78 percent of them said that volunteering lowered their stress levels.
  • 96 percent reported that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life.
  • 80 percent of them feel like they have control over their health.
  • About a quarter of them reported that their volunteer work has helped them manage a chronic illness by keeping them active and taking their minds off of their own problems.
  • Volunteers have better personal scores than non-volunteers on nine well-established measures of emotional wellbeing including personal independence, capacity for rich interpersonal relationships and overall satisfaction with life.
  • Volunteering also improved their mood and self-esteem.

For those of us who have spent time giving back to the community or helping further a cause we believe in, you probably recognize the truth in many of the above findings. It doesn’t seem far-fetched to think that helping others can provide us with a sense of connection, pride, and perspective. Did you know that giving back can also help you live longer?

In 2013, Researchers at the University of Exeter Medical School in the south of England analyzed data from 40 published studies and found evidence that volunteers had a 20 percent lower risk of death than their peers who do not volunteer. The study also found that volunteers had lower levels of depression, increased life satisfaction and enhanced well-being.

Dr. Suzanne Richards, who lead the team of researchers at Exeter, said that more testing on this subject is necessary in order to find out whether or not biological, cultural, and social factors are associated with a willingness to volunteer in the first place, as they are often associated with better health. “The challenge now is to encourage people from more diverse backgrounds to take up volunteering, and then to measure whether improvements arise for them,” she said.

Volunteering doesn’t have to take over your life to be beneficial. In fact, research shows that just two or three hours per week, or about 100 hours a year, can confer the most benefits—to both you and your chosen cause.[2] The important thing is to volunteer only the amount of time that feels comfortable to you. Volunteering should feel like a fun and rewarding hobby, not another chore on your to-do list.

One common refrain heard around the holidays is, “It is better to give than receive.” The above research on volunteerism sheds new light on this old adage. As you consider how to be good to yourself in 2016, first ask how you can help others. It is increasingly evident that by volunteering with a local charity you can ensure that your New Year’s resolution to be healthier and happier will continue throughout the year.


[2] The CCG Alliance requires only 60 hours of volunteer time and/or $1,380 in donations annually for membership.