Volunteering is often portrayed as an act of selflessness and sacrifice. But a new study suggests that volunteering might not only be good for your neighborhood, but good for you as well.
In the study, published recently in the Nonprofit and Voluntary Sector Quarterly, researchers gave participants questionnaires surveying how frequently they volunteered in their neighborhood, their personal well-being (including the quality of their health and relationships), and the well-being of their neighborhood.
They found that people who volunteered had different psychological profiles from nonvolunteers. Volunteers were more likely to be extroverted and optimistic, and to perceive a greater sense of control over their lives than nonvolunteers. They were also likely to be less neurotic.
What's more, people who volunteered showed significantly higher personal well-being, even after the researchers controlled for their personality traits. In other words, the results don't just suggest that healthy, socially connected people volunteer, but that special benefits might come from volunteering itself. Their results showed that people who volunteered also experienced a similar boost to their neighborhood well-being.
Fortunately, these result applied across categories of age, gender, and geographical location, suggesting that the benefits of volunteering may be available to all.
For more on the benefits of volunteering, check out Meredith Maran's Greater Good article this month, which reports on research showing how different forms of civic engagement and activism can boost your health and happiness.