When spiritual leaders and philosophers tell us that money can’t buy you happiness or good health, we tend to shrug it off as utopian or wishful thinking. After all, the real world runs on dollars and rupees, not on love and fresh (or polluted) air. While it’s true that most of us simply can’t survive without money, science now lends support to the belief that happiness and good health simply cannot be bought through material purchases and ownership. It comes from forming meaningful connections, helping and cheering others.

Is the cynic in you still skeptical? Well, you can’t be blamed for having doubts, but let’s take a look at what science has to say.

Why Helping Others Is The Best Way To Help Yourself

Human beings are inherently social creatures and this has a huge impact on the way we feel about life in general, and about ourselves. Researchers have been curious about the influence that ‘purpose in life’ has on our physical and mental well-being, and more studies are beginning to throw light on the subject.

Here’s how volunteering affects your physical and mental health.

Cholesterol & Obesity

“A Canadian study in JAMA Pediatrics found that teenage volunteers benefited with improvement in both cholesterol levels & weight profiles”

High cholesterol and obesity is a widespread problem across the world and it’s becoming increasingly problematic in urban India too. It turns out that volunteering helps relieve both problems. Canadian researchers tracked tenth graders who engaged in volunteer work and found that their cholesterol levels and weight profiles improved dramatically in comparison to those who did not volunteer. These findings appeared in the journal JAMA Pediatrics and some researchers suggest that volunteering may be a novel and often overlooked approach to improve health.

Depression & Stress

“Volunteering gives you a purpose in life, & this has been linked with a decline in feelings of depression”

Aside from improving levels of general fitness and flexibility, people who volunteer are also likely to feel more energetic and positive about life. In a study conducted at Washington University in St. Louis, researchers found that volunteers started to experience a decline in feelings of depression, which psychologists attribute to a newfound purpose in life that comes from volunteering.


“A 2016 study in the journal Social Science and Medicine found that people who volunteer have greater self-awareness & are more likely to go for regular health checks”

Self-care and preventive care are cornerstones of good health, but most of us neglect our own health, avoiding or delaying vaccinations and other health tests. On the other hand, people who volunteer have greater self-awareness and are more likely to go for regular health checks, as shown in a 2016 study in the journal Social Science and Medicine. This ensures a higher quality of life, as early detection of irregularities allows for more effective preventive measures and it also improves treatment outcomes.

Chronic Disease

“Volunteering may even benefit patients suffering from chronic conditions that cause severe pain & disability, by lowering pain levels & relieving depression”

Patients who battle chronic pain and disabling conditions may not seem like ideal volunteers, but research shows that volunteering actually benefits them by lowering levels of pain, as well as depression. Medical professionals are even exploring volunteering as a form of therapy for patients suffering from chronic conditions.


While this may come as no surprise to yogis and spiritualists, helping others through volunteering actually has such a significant effect on health that it lowers mortality rates. This is what researchers learned, even after taking into account other factors that affect life expectancy, such as socioeconomic status, education, relationship status, age, gender, and so on. Surprisingly, the effects on life expectancy were higher among volunteers than among those receiving the help!

The Takeaway

While personality traits like conscientiousness, social responsibility, and social connection do have some bearing on the impact of volunteering, personality traits themselves do not account for all the health benefits of volunteering. However, if you do want to take up volunteering, don’t just do so for your own benefit, cause that’s simply not how it works.  A study in Health Psychology  found that volunteers lived longer lives, but only in those cases where the participants volunteered to help others, rather than his or herself!

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September 20, 2017

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