Volunteering in your community doesn’t just help others, it can benefit your health, too. Allen Luks’s landmark study in 1988, which surveyed more than 3,000 people about the emotional and physical health benefits of helping others, found that 95 percent of all volunteers reported a “feel-good” sensation and experienced reduced stress levels.
Luks, executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters of New York City, describes this response to helping others as the “healthy helping syndrome.” In addition to the immediate positive emotions most volunteers encounter (what Luks calls the “helper’s high”), most regular do-gooders also experience increased feelings of self-worth, calm and relaxation. And the more you help, the greater the health benefits: Weekly volunteers were 10 times more likely to report specific health improvements, such as reduced pain or fewer colds, than those who volunteered less frequently.
Volunteering doesn’t have to be a huge commitment, but the health benefits of giving back to your community can be substantial. Find an organization in your area at www.volunteermatch.org, and read more about Luks’s research in The Healing Power of Doing Good (iUniverse.com, 2001).