How volunteering can change your brain chemistry to make you happier

Volunteer work is proven to impact mental health

‘I would love to, but I don’t have time / I’m too stressed / I’m too tired’… just some of the excuses that might come between you and volunteer work.

But turns out, volunteering is actually good for you. Not just because it helps those in need, but because it is scientifically proven to make you happier too.

So, whether it’s taking an elderly person out for a coffee, working in a food bank, or helping out at a domestic violence charity, your actions will spark a neurological response in your brain.

[Credit: Sensory Trust]

It’s all thanks to the release of our feel-good hormones as during emotional moments, our brain releases chemicals. This means, when you volunteer and experience special connections with people or animals, your brain releases neurotransmitters dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin.

This holy trinity is the stuff you would bottle if you could, with the dopamine, oxytocin, and serotonin combo having the power to boost mood, reduce anxiety, and improve memory and focus.

Speaking about the link between altruism and feelings of euphoria, Laurie Santos, a Professor of Psychology at Yale University, said humans are at their happiest when doing things for others.

Laurie explained: “People who do more volunteer work tend to be happier than those that don’t. This is a universal phenomenon.

“In fact, pro-social behaviour seems to, across most cultures, improve people’s happiness.”

[Credit: Alzheimer’s Society]

Meanwhile, social psychologist Naomi Eisenberger supported this claim, adding: “When we help another person – whether it’s holding a partner’s hand as they go through something painful or donating money to a charity – we see ‘reward-related’ activation in the brain.

“So, regions of our brain that process basic rewards, such as eating tasty food or winning money, also activate when we are doing something nice for someone else.”

Naomi added: “These acts of kindness also typically lead to positive feelings or what is sometimes referred to as the ‘warm glow’ of giving.”

Studies also back their beliefs, with one looking at how participants felt spending the same amount of money on themselves versus on someone else for five consecutive days.

[Credit: Unicef]

It was discovered that feelings of happiness dropped more rapidly when people spent the dollar on themselves, compared to when they were splashing the cash on other people.

Naomi explained: “In other words, the happiness associated with giving to others didn’t seem to ‘get old’ in the same way that was seen for giving to oneself.”

In addition to these findings, volunteering is known to elevate social skills and reduce loneliness due to the interaction often required within the community or fellow members of the public.

If you’re interested to volunteer but don’t know where to start, click here: volunteering UK.

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