If you ever volunteered, it probably came from a desire to help others or to contribute to society. Your main drive to visit the elderly home or the foodbank every week was not for yourself; it was to make another one’s life just a little bit brighter. Besides, for your work as a volunteer you knew not to expect any compensation. Afterall, volunteering is an act of kindness. Yet you might unknowingly have received the greatest gift in return. The gift of ‘happiness’. So does volunteering really bring happiness, and if so, how?
Volunteers Experience Greater Happiness
Recently, the Central Bureau of Statistics in the Netherlands reported that volunteers experience greater happiness as opposed to non-volunteers (CBS, 2020). Their study showed that of the people who volunteered 91% stated to be happy. (see figure 1). This is 6% more than in the group of non-volunteers.
The study of CBS ran from 2013 to 2018 and included 45.000 Dutch participants who were above 15 years old. In 2018 almost half of the participants stated to have volunteered over the last 12 months for one or more organizations. Over the last four weeks, 3 out of 10 had participated in a volunteering activity. The participants scored themselves on a scale of 1 to 10 on how happy they perceived themselves.
Not only did the people that volunteered score higher on happiness, they also scored significantly lower on the unhappiness scale. People who do not volunteer experienced almost twice the amount of unhappiness compared to people who do volunteer (3.4%, 1.8% respectively). If those statistics do not want to make volunteer, we don’t know what will!
Type of Volunteering Organization and Happiness
The type of organization for which you volunteer does not seem to make a big difference. In the study CBS differentiated between various type of organizations, from sport to church. Although for each organization volunteers are happier than non-volunteers, the between organizational difference turned out to be relatively small. My advice? Participate in any type of volunteering organization that fits best with you!
More Hours of Volunteering Does Not Make You Happier
Volunteers in the Netherlands spent an average of 4.5 hours per week volunteering in 2018. Apparently, volunteering more hours barely impacts the amount of experienced happiness. The CBS study did not perceive higher happiness scores for volunteers that spend more hours volunteering than others. It seems that the mere act of volunteering by dedicating a few hours a week is already giving you the benefit of increased happiness.
Why Volunteering Makes You Happier
So why do volunteers experience increased happiness? A simple google search shows you an overwhelming result of articles. Mostly, they illustrate that volunteering gives a sense of purpose, allows for an emotional connection with others, and puts life into perspective (Borgonovi, 2008). Volunteering gives you a feeling of fulfillment and connection. It is not only being kind that gives you a good feeling, but also the being part of something bigger than your own life. As opposed to an instant gratification like checking your Instagram page, the act of volunteering is selfless work for the wellbeing of others that leaves a deep positive impact on your life.
Non Official Volunteer Activities Can Make You Happier
Another study shows that not only volunteering but also other forms of societal participations can increase happiness (Mars en Schmeets, 2011). Societal participation here refers to contact with your family, friends, and neighbors, as well as being active in clubs or associations. So, a visit to your grandfather or helping out with extracurricular activities might do the happiness trick too. They can give you the warm-fuzzy feelings that only true acts of kindness can give.
To conclude, it is like the Dalai Lama said: “If you would like to be selfish, you should do it in a very intelligent way. The stupid way to be selfish is … seeking happiness for ourselves alone. … the intelligent way to be selfish is to work for the welfare of others.” As we have seen, greater happiness can be found by being intelligently selfish. Doing good for others, does good for you.
What volunteering experiences have made you a happier person? Please let us know in the comments. You might just inspire another person to start volunteering today! Interested in volunteering yourself? Check out some volunteering opportunities here.
Borgonovi, F. (2008). Doing well by doing good. The relationship between formal volunteering and self-reported health and happiness. Social science & medicine, 66(11), 2321-2334.
CBS. (2020, Februari 2). Vrijwilligers voelen zich gelukkiger. https://www.cbs.nl/nl-nl/nieuws/2020/08/vrijwilligers-voelen-zich-gelukkiger
Mars, G. en H. Schmeets (2011). Meer sociale samenhang, meer geluk? Bevolkingstrends, 59(3).