Our lives are filled to the brim with numerous activities and demands—families, careers, relationships, hobbies, passions—and it’s often hard to find time in our busy schedules to make a difference in our communities. We recently read an article on the New York Times’ website that piqued our interest. Titled “The ‘Busy’ Trap,” this poignant piece by Opinionator Tim Krieder riveted us because it made us contemplate the main premise of the article, which is that society’s emphasis on busyness as a trait to value, strive toward, and uphold can be detrimental to one’s quality of life. It made us reflect on all of the times we’ve told loved ones that we were too busy to meet for lunch or take a walk, not because we didn’t want to do those things, but because we thought we’d sound more important if we didn’t have time to partake in leisurely activities. Mostly, it reminded us that we should never claim to be too busy to serve the suffering.

It’s not news that non-profit organizations need the help of committed volunteers. By utilizing the skills of people willing to help without drawing salaries, non-profits can keep their expenses low and send money to help fund their projects. Serving in any capacity or for any type of organization is certainly time-consuming and often times draining, both physically and emotionally. It can be hard to find time away from work, family, and social engagements to volunteer. It can be difficult to face the harsh realities that many non-profits confront, issues like human trafficking, homelessness, poverty, illness, and broken homes. But it can also be beautiful, fulfilling, and life-changing.

An impressive study by the Corporation for National and Community Service shows that peoples’ lives are greatly improved when they commit themselves to volunteering on a regular basis:

Volunteering Can Make You Healthier

Research showed that volunteering improved participants’ physical, emotional, and mental health. The greatest impact was found for volunteers aged 60 and older, but benefits were also discovered in volunteers who were younger. Rates of depression among volunteers dropped, and it was found that individuals who serve on a consistent basis could ward off future illnesses better than those who don’t.

Volunteering Can Help You Live Longer

Several studies revealed that volunteers who served often had lower mortality rates than those who didn’t participate in volunteer opportunities. These studies noted that the results remained the same regardless of the participants’ overall health, age, socioeconomic status, and gender. Researchers also learned that individuals with chronic illnesses benefited by serving more than their counterparts who did not. They found that involving chronically ill people in service allowed them to receive emotional, mental, and spiritual benefits that could not have been derived with the help of medicine alone.

Volunteering Can Make You Happier

Researchers used data from an Americans’ Changing Lives survey and they concluded the following: “Volunteering and physical well-being are part of a positive reinforcing cycle.” Participants felt happier when volunteering; they felt more grateful, more light-hearted, more in control of their lives. They exhibited high self-esteem. They were markedly happier than those people who did not volunteer.

The benefits of volunteering are truly immeasurable. But the survey pointed out an important component—the individuals who were surveyed volunteered consistently, making their service opportunities of the utmost priority. As the researchers documented in the survey, “Volunteers must meet a ‘volunteer threshold’ to receive significant health benefits.” The authors of the study defined a volunteer threshold as a specific devotion to a cause or an organization, and they quantified it in two ways. In order to reach a volunteer threshold, a participant must volunteer with one or more organizations per year or they must serve for over 40 hours per year. A volunteer will not gain benefits simply by helping a cause for an afternoon or two.

The point the researchers make is simple—volunteering will allow us to lead happier, healthier lives, but achieving these results takes our time and dedication. Rather than getting caught in Tim Kreider’s “Busyness Trap,” we can devote our time and energy to volunteering, all while simultaneously making ourselves happier and healthier. Not a bad deal, if you ask us.


Image: Smith College students making a Victory Garden between Library and Burton Hall, 1943. Photograph by Fred G. Chase