Research has shown that volunteering can have mental, physical, and professional benefits for the volunteer. This year, resolve to make a positive difference in the lives of others. You’ll see that when you help others, you’re also helping yourself – keep that resolution for once.

Every year millions of people fill New Year’s resolution lists with variations on the same few pledges. Last year Time Magazine revealed the top resolutions for U.S. adults to be:

  • Lose Weight and Get Fit
  • Quit Smoking
  • Learn Something New
  • Eat Healthier and Diet
  • Get Out of Debt and Save Money

Granted, resolving to volunteer was 9th on the list, but did I mention that this was a list of the “Top 10 Commonly Broken New Year’s Resolutions?” Most of us make vows that we never follow through on. We will push them off until next year or make excuses. “My list was in my jeans pocket, and it went through the wash…”

Now, I’m not one to call the kettle black. I’m simply here to propose an idea – if you’re looking for a way to improve yourself, why not help others in the process? Research has shown that volunteering has mental and physical health benefits for the volunteer.


In a study by Johns Hopkins Medical Institutions, “Older adults who volunteer in troubled urban schools not only improve the educational experience of children, but realize meaningful improvements in their own mental and physical health.” Lead author of the study, Linda P. Fried, M.D., director of the Center on Aging and Health at Johns Hopkins, explained, “While our results are preliminary, what we found is a ‘win-win’ for everyone involved. Giving back to your community may slow the aging process in ways that lead to a higher quality of life in older adults.”

Researchers at the London School of Economics found that in American Adults, the more that people volunteered, the happier they were. Additionally, in this study published by Harvard Health Publications, it was found that: “Compared with people who never volunteered, the odds of being “very happy” rose 7% among those who volunteer monthly and 12% for people who volunteer every two to four weeks. Among weekly volunteers, 16% felt very happy—a hike in happiness comparable to having an income of $75,000–$100,000 versus $20,000.”


In another study by the National Survey of Giving, Volunteering and Participating (NSGVP) 79% of volunteers reported that their work helped improve their interpersonal skills, such as understanding people better, motivating others, and dealing with difficult situations. Almost two-thirds said volunteering facilitated the development of better communication skills, and increased their knowledge of issues related to their volunteering experience. These benefits increased with the more time spent volunteering.

Volunteering can aid your professional aspirations as well. “Volunteering is associated with a 27% higher odds of employment.” Results of this study by The Corporation for National and Community Service, “suggest a statistically significant and stable association between volunteering and employment.” Furthermore, “suggesting that irrespective of economic conditions volunteering may add an advantage to the out of work seeking employment.”

By improving one’s baseline mental and physical wealth and well-being, it seems as though volunteering could in fact help you finally complete those other resolutions that have been rolling-over from year to year. So, this year when you sit down to write or type that list, have item #1 be, “to make a positive impact in the lives of others.”

I’ll make it even easier for you, just copy and paste below…voilà, list complete!


– Emma Schaberg O’Brien (Aicha Bah Diallo)