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Volunteering and Human Flourishing

Tyler J. VanderWeele: We used data on about 13,000 older adults in the Health and Retirement Study, with 8 years of data on each participant. We examined, for example, how volunteering in 2010 was related to subsequent health and well-being in 2014, controlling for those same health and well-being outcomes in 2006, along with a vast range of social, demographic, and behavioral characteristics. During the study period, participants who volunteered at least two hours per week (compared with not at all) subsequently had higher levels of happiness, optimism, and purpose in life, and more contact with friends; they also had lower levels of depressive symptoms, hopelessness, and loneliness, fewer perceived physical discomforts and disabilities, and more physical activity. They were also notably less likely to die in the four years of follow-up — about 40 percent less so! This final result is, in fact, similar to, and helps to yet further confirm, an earlier meta-analysis (combining results over many studies) of the potential effects of volunteering on mortality. This is not to say that there was evidence for effects on all outcomes examined. There was no evidence, for instance, that volunteering prevents hypertension or lung disease, and little evidence that it increases life satisfaction.

 

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