July 19, 2012

Volunteer to Gain Time and Live Longer!

Looking for a reason to volunteer somewhere? How about these two reasons:
  • You might just feel like you have MORE time, and 
  • You might just live longer. 
Need to Feel Like You've Got More Time?
As reported Monday on NBC's Today Show health site, a new study suggests that people who volunteer their time end up feeling like they actually have MORE time. Yes, the premise seems a little odd.

In one of four different experiments, 218 college students were assigned one of two different five-minute tasks. The first involved simply “receiving” time to waste; the second involved “giving” time by writing a brief email to a very sick child. Afterward, the group that wrote emails indicated feeling like they had more time than those who had just goofed off.

Cassie Mogilner, study leader at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, said “Although it seems counterintuitive to give away any of your time when you feel your time to be scarce, our findings suggest that even spending small pockets of time to help others can make people feel more effective, and like they can do a lot with the limited time they have.”

Apparently, for people who feel their time is really pinched, nothing eases that pressure – or creates the sensation of having more time – than meaningful volunteering…. not even getting an unexpected “windfall” of extra time. Giving time, said Mogilner, boosts one’s sense of efficiency and competence, and skews the perception of time. She adds, “Carve out 10 to 15 minutes a day to do something for someone else.”

Volunteers Live Longer
Not convinced that you'll feel like you have more time? Want to live longer?

With her colleagues, Sara Konrath of the University of Michigan, reviewed the results from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study, which – amazingly – has tracked a randomly assembled group of 10,317 Wisconsin residents from their 1957 high school graduations until the present. That’s 55 years of information!

In 2004, participants were asked how often they had volunteered during the past ten years, and why. The results were intriguing: people who volunteered for altruistic reasons (not “giving my time makes me feel better about myself”) showed lower mortality rates by 2008 than non-volunteers. 4.3% of non-volunteers had died four years later, while only 1.6% of the altruistic volunteers had died. In a particularly telling result, those who volunteered just to make themselves feel good showed mortality rates comparable to the non-volunteers.

Having collected participants’ health information through the years, the researchers took into account such factors as socioeconomic status, mental health, social support, marital status and health risk factors, including smoking, body mass index and alcohol use.

And Volunteers Are Less Likely To Be Lonely 
Loneliness in older individuals is linked to functional decline and a greater risk of death, according to a recent study involving 1,604 people 60 and older (average age 71).

An important 1979 study done at the University of California, Berkeley, involving 6,900 adults found that those with the strongest social ties were half as likely to die over a nine-year period as the most isolated people.

Different Strokes for Different Folks
Whether it involves my time or money, I choose to help people-in-need I know, not established charitable organizations. Here's one reason why: volunteering with an organization often requires attending meetings, a regular, least-satisfying feature of my forty years in business. When I retired, I vowed -- "no more meetings!"

But that's just another Schappi quirk. Many of my friends gain a great deal of satisfaction -- and make important contributions -- by volunteering.

So Many Resources
If you feel the urge to give some of your time, there are lots of resources out there to help find a “good fit.” Here are just a few:

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