Helping our fellow man has long been seen as an altruistic behavioral model. But it turns out that more selfish motives—pleasing friends, doing what you want—are more successful causes of effective volunteering. Whatever the motive, volunteering improves the health, happiness, and in some cases, the longevity of volunteers. Children who volunteer are more likely to grow up to be adults who volunteer. Even unwilling children who are forced to volunteer fare better than kids who don't volunteer. And in a virtuous circle, communities with lots of volunteers are more stable and better places to live, which in turn further boosts volunteerism. "On one hand, it's striking that volunteering even occurs," says Mark Snyder, a psychologist and head of the Center for the Study of the Individual and Society at the University of Minnesota. "It seems to run against the strong dynamics of self-interest. There is simply nothing in society that says that someone is mandated to help anyone else." Yet 1 in 3 adults do meaningful volunteer work on a sustained basis, he notes, and the United States has one of the world's highest rates of volunteerism. "People who volunteer tend to have higher self-esteem, psychological well-being, and happiness," Snyder says. "All of these things go up as their feelings of social connectedness goes up, which in reality, it does. It also improves their health and even their longevity." Among teenagers, even at-risk children who volunteer reap big benefits, according to research findings studied by Jane Allyn Piliavin, a retired University of Wisconsin sociologist. She cites a positive effect on grades, self-concept, and attitudes toward education. Volunteering also led to reduced drug use and huge declines in dropout rates and teen pregnancies. Other research links youth volunteering to a higher quality of life as an adult, Piliavin adds. "Participating in high school tends to boost participating in adulthood, which is related to enhanced well-being." One clear message from this for parents: Get your children involved in community volunteer programs. Most people say they value volunteering because Continue Reading....
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