Dr. Greif would like to remind everyone that volunteering isn’t just for around the holidays. Though we are more prone to do so around that time of year, he would like to point out that doing so the rest of the year doesn’t just help others, it helps yourself as well. It makes us feel good to lend a hand, but Dr. Greif notes that there is scientific proof that volunteering not only affects you psychologically but physically as well.
While cultures around the world set aside special days to show thanks set aside special days to show thanks. With family and friends gathering together to express appreciation for one another, as well as life’s bounty. During this time more so than the rest of the year we often donate time and energy to helping others; who, in return, are often then inspired to volunteer their own time. It’s a fulfilling exchange for everyone involved. But we have to remember that while the holidays are a great time to give our time, the rest of the year is just as needful.
Dr. Greif encourages everyone not just his clients to volunteer for the cause that is dear to them. While it feeds the soul to pitch in; good Samaritans are showered with a cascade of other benefits, including better health. Henry David Thoreau explained that “goodness is the other investment that never fails.” Dr. Greif agrees with that volunteering improves physical health, and wants to share the research he’s gathered that proves it.
Chiropractors: Setting an Example
In addition to supplying a substantial amount of care to under-served and rural populations[i], chiropractors also contribute many unpaid hours of professional time. In fact, doctors of chiropractic serve a vital role in the health-care safety net for a diverse group of patients.[ii]
After the tragedy in New York City on September 11, 2001, the workers at Ground Zero were quickly overwhelmed by stress and emotion. Wanting to do something to help, chiropractor Dr. Patrick McNeil, D.C., rushed to the site and offered free chiropractic care to people toiling there.
“It’s more than just relieving pain or tension,” said McNeil. “I can’t imagine loving somebody more than giving them an adjustment…To have a guy get adjusted and stand up and say, ‘Wow, I fell a whole lot better’…is something.” McNeil feels lucky to have bene able to make a difference during a national crisis.
Why Do People Volunteer?
People volunteer for a many reasons, ranging from pure unselfishness to promise of political gain.[iii] Perceived rewards also vary from person to person, with some merely looking for new personal challenges and experiences.[iv] The opportunity to travel is also motivational for many.
However, many people who never expect to volunteer may be struck suddenly with the desire to help. This was true for thousands of vacationers in Thailand in 2004 when a massive tsunami roared ashore. National Geographic Adventure Magazine reported that while many tourists fled, an overwhelming number stayed and “worked hand in hand” to tend to the injured.
The Reward of Better Health and Longevity
The powerful feeling that one “matters” should not be underestimated. There is a proven link between volunteering and health.[v] Analysis also finds that helping others is especially advantageous for anyone who has been isolated socially.
Productive engagement is a “potential pathway to health” that is enriched by the number and diversity of activities in which a person participates.[vi] In other words: The more you give, the more you get.
Can volunteering lead to a longer life? Yes. A study of volunteers over the age of 60 found that donating one’s time is associated with reduced mortality, even after age, gender and physical health are factored in.[vii]
Additional research verifies that volunteering leads to better health and greater happiness, regardless of the volunteer’s socio-economic status.[viii] Researchers suspect that the health boost comes from the volunteer’s increased empathy. Doing good deeds can also positively refocus aspirations and life goals.
Volunteers often enjoy bonuses they never could have predicted. For instance, nursing students who donated professional services in Cambodia reported that the mission had strengthened their clinical skills and enhanced their understanding of primary healthcare.[ix] The nurses said the encounter with cultural diversity and immersion also informed their work back home.
Citizens who poured into the Gulf of Coast area of the US to clean up after Hurricane Katrina became part of the longest volunteer response in American history – more than 1 million people.
According to an article in USA Today, for many, the experience renewed their appreciation for life in general. Others say the warm feelings that came from filling the need after a disaster have ben endlessly rewarding.
Benefits for the Recipients of Volunteer Care
Recipients of aid provide a singular perspective regarding their helpers. As beneficiaries of charity, disadvantaged people say they are often inspired by those who assist them.[x]
For some, the help from volunteers is preferred to that of paid staff.[xi] In these cases, unpaid helpers set a “living example” of human goodness, which demonstrates that society cares. For at-risk teens, this perception could redirect their intentions toward helping others.
Studies show that a caring nature is contagious. One investigation demonstrates that adolescents who volunteer are good influences on their friends. Researchers also noticed significant reductions in depression, alcohol abuse and problem behaviors among teens whose friends are volunteers.[xii]
The Benefits of Volunteer Work among Senior Citizens
Active senior citizens spend vast amounts of time helping others, whether through care-giving, volunteering or by lending a hand to a neighbor.[xiii] Over time, this altruistic spirit produces an ever widening increase in life satisfaction.[xiv]
People who are widowed are more likely to pursue volunteering, and are grateful to have the opportunity to do so.[xv] They discover that helping others is a tonic that can vanquish grief and depression.[xvi] As George Washington Carver noted: “If you want to life yourself up, lift up someone else.”
Social scientists suggest that communities develop policies that encourage older adults to volunteer so their vast resources can be shared with others.[xvii] It’s a win-win situation for everyone.
Acts of Kindness all around
Is this the right time for you to think about volunteering? Remember, everyone has something to offer. Take a look around our community, and you’ll quickly find ways to pitch in. Ask us for more ideas about how volunteering can improve your life and your health.
[i] Am J Public Health 2002;92:2001-9.
[ii] J Manipulative Physiol Ther. 2007;30:718-28.
[iii] Health Care Manag 2008;27:159-64.
[iv] Br Dent J 2008;204:275-7.
[v] J Health Soc Behav 2007;48:450-64.
[vi] Helath Soc Work 2006;31:275-88.
[vii] Int Psycholgeriatr 2008:20:1000-13.
[viii] Soc Sci Med 2008;66:23221-34.
[ix] Can Nurse 2006;102:29-31.
[x] Tech Hand Up Extrem Surg 2007;11:198-203.
[xi] Int J Offender Ther Comp Criminol 2008 Epub.
[xii] Dev Psychol 2008;44:1081-94.
[xiii] J Aging Soc Policy 2008;20:141-64.
[xiv] J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2000;55:S308-18.
[xv] J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2007;62:S257-66.
[xvi] Pers Soc Psychol Bull 2008;34:849-61.
[xvii] J Gerontol B Psychol Sci Soc Sci 2003;58:S137-45.