Performing selfless acts of volunteering for others may result in a longer life, according to research published by the American Psychological Association. Volunteers who reported volunteering for altruistic values or a desire for social connections lived longer than people who didn’t volunteer. Similar benefits may be exhibited from working for a particular cause that you believe in.
Researchers found that the motives of a volunteer can actually serve to lengthen their life. It’s not so much that you volunteer by why you volunteer that makes the difference, the study says. If you’re serving community service or if you’re on the roster at the local Habitat for Humanity in order to improve your image, it might not serve you well. If, however, you volunteer for the sake of others, you could live longer.
The study, published in the Health Psychology journal says that those who serve for altruistic reasons—that is a desire for social connections or the need to serve others, can increase their life span. But those who serve for their own sake maintain the same life expectancy as those who don’t volunteer at all.
“It is reasonable for people to volunteer in part because of benefits to the self; however, our research implies that, ironically, should these benefits to the self become the main motive for volunteering, they may not see those benefits,” said the paper’s co-author, Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis, MA.
Researchers analyzed a random sample of more than 10,000 from the time they graduated high school in 1957 until present day. They surveyed the participants in 2004, asking if they had volunteered within the past 10 years and what their reasons were. The reasons ranged from self-serving (“volunteering is a good escape from my troubles” or “volunteering makes me feel better about myself”), to selfless (“I feel it’s important to help others” or “volunteering is important to the people I know best”).
Researchers also looked at the participant’s lifestyle including other factors that would affect their lifespan. Once accounting for these variables, 4.3 percent of non-volunteers were dead within 4 years whereas only 1.6 percent of volunteers with selfless motivations had died. About 4 percent of those who volunteered for selfish reasons had passed away.
What’s the take-away? While serving others is noble regardless of your motivations, doing it solely for their benefit will benefit everyone more.