By Sara Konrath, Ph.D.
volunteering happiness
Most of us know that if we eat our fruit and veggies, exercise often, and avoid smoking, we have a better chance of living longer and healthier lives. But your doctor may not have told you that regularly giving to others should perhaps be added to that healthy checklist. A new paper by Dr. Suzanne Richards and collegues at the University of Exeter Medical School, Exeter, UK, reviewed 40 studies from the past 20 years on the link between volunteering and health. Published today in BMC Public Health, the paper finds that volunteering is associated with lower depression, increased well-being, and a 22 percent reduction in the risk of dying.

In my experience, most of the studies on this topic so far compare active volunteers to non-volunteers, following them over time to see how they are doing a few years later. This is a very common method used to understand health effects of various behaviors, like smoking, taking multivitamins, or eating blueberries. But the problem with this method is that people who volunteer are "healthier and wealthier" than people who don't. So it's not surprising that a few years later they are still looking pretty good.
Experimental studies that randomly assign some people to volunteer and others to do something else (or to go on a waiting list for a few months) are much better. At least in these studies we know that everyone started off the same.
In the new paper, the authors reviewed a few such studies, but they were cautious about the general conclusions that could be made from them. More experimental studies are needed, they said. But if you really think about it, by definition, it's a bit odd for studies to force a group of people to "volunteer." So maybe that's why these studies are uncommon.

Read more at Huffington Post