Utahns are no strangers to service — the state is consistently ranked at the top of the country for volunteering.
From helping neighbors to serving in an organization or providing tutoring, Utahns serve others in a variety of ways. What they may not realize is that volunteering could be just as beneficial to them as it is to the people they serve.
Ray Mohler Jr. knows a thing or two about the benefits of service. When only 4 years old, Mohler spent a frightening day in the emergency room. Though he was treated and recovered, he can still remember leaving the hospital with concern for the other children he saw who would not be going home as quickly.
That year, Mohler donated half of his birthday and Christmas gifts to those children. Two years later, at age 6, Mohler started the Little Saint Nick Foundation, a nonprofit that gets kids involved with serving hospitalized children, following the mantra, “Kids Inspiring and Helping Kids.” Mohler hopes to bring the program nationwide, with additional funding from corporate sponsors and donations.
Since its inception in 2004, the foundation has hosted toy drives, donated emergency room gift bags, built playrooms, awarded educational scholarships and organized parties and celebrity visits for thousands of hospitalized children. In that time, Mohler has seen firsthand the difference service makes in the lives of both volunteers and the people they serve — especially in their health.
Service can help increase happiness
Serving others increases happiness on a chemical level. Research has found that giving to others triggers a release of “feel-good” chemicals such as serotonin, dopamine and oxytocin. One study, in particular, used an MRI scanner on subjects while suggesting a series of proposed money transfers. The study found that those money transfers representing voluntary donations to a food bank activated pleasure centers in the brain.
Mohler says giving back to children in hospitals has given him a new perspective on life. He is filled with an appreciation for the fact that he is able to give, while the children he is serving often do not have that opportunity as they focus on getting well.
“Whenever we have those hands-on events like hospital visits or granting wishes, it always brings me back to a place of gratitude,” he says. And gratitude has been similarly linked to an increase in individual happiness and optimism.
Service can reduce stress
Feelings of stress and anxiety are common in the emergency room, especially for children. Mohler says the goal of his foundation is to reduce the stress for the children by providing them with fun distractions like parties, toys and gift bags. The difference is evident for the children, who are noticeably calmer with the gifts they get at the hospital. Mohler says the lower stress is helpful for patients, as well as the doctors and family members caring for them.
Not only do these acts of service reduce stress for the recipients, but they do the same for the person giving the service. Giving back can help people to feel a connection to others and gives volunteers a psychological boost that helps bring stress levels down.
Serving can benefit your heart
Not only does giving make your heart feel good, but it can help you avoid heart disease in the future as well. Regular service can keep your blood pressure down, which can prevent heart problems like cardiac disease and stroke later in life.
If you haven’t given volunteering a try, there’s no time like the present to dip your toes in the giving pool. Whether you volunteer with an organization like the Little Saint Nick Foundation or you start small by serving in your community, your health can see some benefits.