Giving from the Heart
More than 30 studies link volunteering to specific physical and
mental health benefits
WHILE ZACH JAMISON may have felt as if
something was taken from him when he was diagnosed with a rare form
of juvenile arthritis at age 6, he has been on the receiving end of
something as well: the gift of giving. Now 13, Zach and his family
have been raising money for the Arthritis Foundation through their
local Arthritis Walk in Woodstock, Ga., since his diagnosis.
"Volunteering gives me hope for a brighter future because it
helps raise awareness and funds for research to put an end to this
disease," he says.
After osteoarthritis led fitness coach Michele Melkerson-Granryd
to undergo double hip replacement in her late 40s, she began
volunteering on the logistics committee for her local Arthritis
Walk in Austin, Texas.
"I feel like there's a reason I went through this, and if I
don't do something good with it, then it was a waste," she
Zach's and Michele's experiences reflect what has been
documented in more than 30 studies nationwide. When you help
others, "there is a contagious joy at witnessing someone's
suffering end," says Emiliana Simon-Thomas, Ph.D., associate
director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and
Education at Stanford University.
The research shows that people who volunteer at least 100 hours
a year-just a couple of hours a week-have greater longevity, higher
functional ability, lower rates of depression and less incidence of
It turns out that helping others creates a joyous cycle:
Volunteering makes you feel better, and people who feel better
volunteer more. "We are fundamentally wired for working together,"
Dr. Simon-Thomas says.
-By Teresa Caldwell Board