The Feel-Good Benefits of Giving Back
December 02, 2019
Lisa Beach

With the arrival of the holiday season, Giving Tuesday offers a gentle reminder to give back (whether that’s your time, money, goods, or your voice) to your favorite causes and your local community. Celebrated on the first Tuesday after Thanksgiving in the United States, Giving Tuesday kicks off the charitable season, a time when you might be focusing on your holiday and end-of-year giving in terms of time, talent, or treasure.

But can giving back to people and causes you’re passionate about also provide benefits to your mental and physical health?

Over the years, a growing body of research demonstrates positive associations between doing good and feeling well. In fact, scores of studies have shown a connection between volunteering and mental, physical, and social benefits. Here are just a few:

  • Research published in The Gerontologist showed some participants in a 20-year study reported having fewer depressive symptoms after volunteering. The study analyzed both the mental and physical health of volunteers helping with environmental stewardship. 
  • A new report by the Corporation for National and Community Service found that its Senior Corps volunteers reported much higher self-rated health scores compared to older adults in similar circumstances who do not volunteer. They also reported feeling significantly less depressed and isolated compared to non-volunteers. The report also notes volunteering leads to greater life satisfaction and that “individuals who volunteer live longer.”
  • Research published in Health Psychology showed that older adults who volunteered (especially those who did so on a regular basis) “were at lower risk for mortality four years later.”
  • A study from the University of the South demonstrated that participating in “random acts of kindness” can elevate your mood moreso than if you had done something that focuses on benefiting yourself. 
  • The International Journal of Psychophysiology published research found that those who “gave social support to others” typically had lower blood pressure.
  • Research published in BMC Public Health showed that “volunteering should be promoted by public health, education and policy practitioners as a kind of healthy lifestyle, especially for the social subgroups of elders, ethnic minorities, those with little education, single people, and unemployed people, who generally have poorer health and less participation in volunteering.”

As you think about giving back this holiday season, know that when you do good, you’re not only helping others, you’re helping yourself.