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There are many people who suppose that humans and animals have a lot of things in common when it comes to communication with ones of their kind. Despite the fact that there are some extraordinary cases related to animal behavior, there is no doubt that people usually demonstrate much more developed skills in empathy. Unlike representatives of a wide range of nonhuman species, many people realize that mutual supportiveness remains extremely important even in case when the resources are limited. Speaking about this assumption, it is necessary to mention such activity as volunteering. The latter involves acts of good will that really help the society to keep developing and to provide vulnerable populations with support that they need. Although the majority of researchers seem to express an undivided opinion when it comes to moral appraisal of this phenomenon, the effects that it produces on volunteers themselves have not been thoroughly studied yet. For instance, there is still a discussion concerning the influence that participation in volunteering activities has on happiness levels. At the same time, this problem can be regarded as quite significant because many people all over the world are interested in volunteering, and it may be necessary to conduct an additional research in order to find out whether the effects of volunteering on happiness levels are primarily positive or not.
Speaking about volunteering, we usually mean a range of activities when a person or a group of people provides other ones with help and assistance, and this collaboration does not involve material remuneration. The particular activities related to such line of work are different as they can be aimed at helping people or the entire organizations. Besides, volunteers often take part in different events organized in order to provide people who are in difficult situation with psychological support and, therefore, improve their mental health and help them to cope with difficulties. One of the most important fields of activity attracting a lot of volunteers is connected with managing the consequences of extraordinary situations and helping those who have become their victims. Therefore, it can be seen that volunteering involves many activities but all of them can be supposed to encourage further development of the human society. The thing that I would like to focus on in this research essay is the assumption that volunteering and all the practices that it involves have a positive influence on the society and volunteers increasing their happiness levels. Making a positive contribution to the society and its well-being is beneficial for both volunteers and those who receive help. In particular, it is able to make the majority of people more satisfied with themselves and help them to improve their self-esteem and even physical health.
There is no doubt that happiness of the entire nation involves positive experience reported by representatives of all the parts of community. Taking that into consideration, it is necessary to pay an increased attention to the effect that volunteering and all the people connected to it produce on representatives of one of the social groups whose opportunities are limited due to natural processes – elderly people. It is common knowledge that mental health depends upon physical health. Therefore, the overall level of happiness may increase only if the majority of people have no serious problems related to these spheres. Volunteering and different practices related to the field help elderly people to improve their physical condition, volunteers’ assistance allows older population to stay active and, therefore, such collaboration may significantly improve their health and well-being that remain the important components of happiness. Speaking about the academic community, it is necessary to say that there are a lot of sources that confirm the given point of view. For instance, Dulin et al. state that the link between well-being and happiness has been proven and participation in voluntary activities may give older people “a chance to improve their health” (618). Apart from that, there is an opinion that “volunteering among older adults is related to better psychosocial, physical, and cognitive health, as well as better functional performance” (Anderson et al. 1506). Besides, there are other researchers who support an opinion that volunteering may have a positive impact on people’s health; for instance, Stephens et al. claim that ones who are involved in it tend to show “overall greater health condition” (23).
This point of view seems to be even more substantial considering that the results of longitudinal studies show that there is a strong link between time spent in order to help other people and living “happier and healthier life” (Konrath 393). Also, the results of such studies seem to demonstrate this correlation when it comes to subjective data reported by the participants. Furthermore, there is a wide range of projects aimed at studying the difference between ones who are somehow connected to volunteering activities and ones who have never been volunteers. For example, as it is stated by Pilkington et al. who conducted such a study, the majority of those people whose self-assessed health condition was relatively high were volunteers whereas non-volunteers reported great physical condition rather seldom (258). Also, it is important to mention that those authors whose works were mentioned do not just express their personal opinion concerning the connection between physical health, level of physical activity, and volunteering; instead, their statements are supported by evidence found with the help of different scientific methods. Having taken this into consideration, it is quite difficult to deny the fact that health has a strong connection to happiness and volunteering helps older population to stay active and feel better.
Another argument that I would like to mention in order to support the given point of view is related to the assumption that giving back to a community promotes attachment and self-esteem and these two qualities are closely interconnected with the notion of happiness. There is no doubt that volunteering activities allow people who are connected to this sphere to demonstrate their strong suits; to some extent, it can even help those people who feel that they need to improve their character or change certain habits. Speaking about the nature of such activity, it is necessary to mention that being a volunteer involves having greater sense of importance. Those related to volunteering usually realize that their effort, skills, and knowledge that they possess may help other people to fulfil their purposes and change their lives for the better. Furthermore, there are a lot of cases when people who have always been unsure of themselves or had no life purpose become volunteers, start helping in organizations fulfilling important missions, and it really helps them to realize that the point of life is strongly interconnected with providing other people with support. Therefore, such individuals realize that there is an important task that they can fulfil; their self-esteem tends to increase due to the fact that their work can help other people to live better lives. There are researchers whose statements support this opinion; for example, in their work, Townsend et al. claim that “increased sense of belonging, self-worth, and enjoyment” are the benefits that volunteers get due to their work (225). Apart from that, there is the evidence that school students tend to demonstrate higher self-assurance “after participating in voluntary activities” (Konrath 400). The data reported by these researchers and many of their colleagues shows that participation in different volunteering activities is associated with higher self-esteem and that it really helps to promote attachment. Considering that these qualities remain essential parts of happiness, it needs to be said that volunteering increases happiness levels in the community in one more way.
To continue, there is another argument that allows us to consider volunteering as an activity which helps people to become happier – its connection with personal development. It is indubitable that happiness is a very complex notion and it involves a lot of components. Being a happy person does not mean only having a roof over the head and something to eat; apart from physiological needs, there are ones related to person’s emotions and mission, and they involve quite a strong desire to realize the potential and achieve success. Therefore, personal development remains one of the most important values for many people and participation in volunteer activities allows many people to bring their talents to light and become happier. Thus, discussing this point of view, it is necessary to mention the research that was conducted by Donahue et al.; as it is clear from the opinion supported by these authors, those who are “motivated by personal development to participation in voluntary engagements tend to exhibit positive emotions” (2). These emotions mentioned by the authors of the article remain an important part of mental condition that we usually refer to as happiness and volunteering is supposed to be one of the good ways to get more positive emotions. It can be stated that there is a lot of ways to get them but in fact, certain things such as amusement can help to improve person’s mood just for a short period of time whereas volunteering involves seeing the fruits of your labor represented by happier people or cleaner streets. It is obvious that such results can make any person happier and this is the effect that participation in volunteer activities produces on common people.
Apart from the factors that have already been mentioned in previous paragraphs, there is one more component of happiness that needs to be discussed with regard to volunteering. Speaking about happiness, it is necessary to understand that there is a wide range of factors that may increase or decrease its level, and these factors are related not only to the thoughts and motives of individuals but also to the relationships between the particular members of the community. Thus, social ties present one more factor helping to assess the level of happiness of the individual or of the entire society. Therefore, the point that needs to be introduced is that volunteering strengthens social ties and this process positively influences happiness. Pilkington et al. found that volunteers who became participants of their research were demonstrating increased social involvement whereas this feature was not as prominent in those people whose activity was not connected to volunteering (249). Discussing the connection between social interaction and volunteering, it is also important to remember that a lack of communication is often associated with such a problem as depression. Nevertheless, volunteering is likely to have a positive influence on people suffering from this disease as well. In their article, Stephens et al. mention the results of many long-term studies proving that “volunteering over time resulted in lower rates of depression among older adults” (23). Considering that depression can be regarded as the condition that is opposite to happiness, the discussed statement allows us to conclude that volunteering has quite a strong influence on happiness levels of individuals and the entire community. In fact, participation in volunteer activities helps people to find new friends and improve communication skills; therefore, volunteers may become more effective members of the society and it also decreases their liability to depression. Thus, volunteer activities help to strengthen social ties and this is another reason why it has a positive influence on happiness levels.
Even though there are a lot of people who would regard arguments that have been previously mentioned as important and consistent, a willingness to uncover the truth concerning the matter should involve certain respect to opposite opinions. Therefore, it is extremely important to analyze the statements that may weaken these arguments and discuss which point of view is more likely to be true.
The first counterargument that needs to be discussed is related to negative experience in volunteering. Thus, there is an opinion that negative experience in the engagement with voluntary activities may adversely affect happiness. As for this very counterargument, it needs to be said that it is related to interpretation of people’s experience and such process usually involves certain preconceptions. In general, the article by Pilkington et al. that was mentioned previously helps the readers to realize the importance of volunteering as the authors list a lot of its positive effects on people. Nevertheless, the authors of this article wanted to conduct an impartial analysis. Therefore, speaking about the present state of the art, they mention certain results reported by previous researchers in the field. According to them, positive experience of those people connected with volunteer activities “was often negated by unfortunate social exchanges” (Pilkington et al. 250). Social exchange may involve a lot of things but it usually refers to relationships based on appropriate correlation between everything that people give and everything that they get in return. As it is clear from the statement made by the authors, sometimes participation in volunteering could not provide people with the experience that they needed.
Discussing this point of view, I would like to focus on the fact that volunteering as a process is not likely to disappoint those who help other people. Instead, volunteers can have negative emotions due to inappropriate or unexpected reaction of those people who received their help but it still remains a weakness of those who exploit volunteers’ kindness. Another thought that aligns with the given counterargument was expressed by Bekkers who believes that people with low-trust expectations are likely to be dissatisfied with their experience in high-trust communities as volunteering organizations (226-227). Although this information can be regarded as true, it is necessary to understand that expectations depend upon the person. As for people with such expectations, they have to understand that the activities they would like to participate in involve high trust by definition. Therefore, these arguments do not seem to be strong enough to refute the main claim.
Those researchers who suppose that positive effect of volunteering on happiness levels is exaggerated seem to focus on such concept as lack of trust; thus, it is also believed that lack of trust between volunteers can inspire low levels of satisfaction. Speaking about those people who support this opinion, it is necessary to pay attention to Bekkers who supposes that a lack of trust between people related to volunteer activities “can dissipate the movement resulting in adverse impact on satisfaction” (227). It is obvious that trust is an essential part of the specific relationships that volunteering involves; there is the real help but there are no contracts for the provision of services, and this is why the only powers that encourage representatives of volunteer organizations to continue their teamwork are sense of responsibility, sense of purpose, and mutual trust. Furthermore, I suppose that it is quite difficult to deny the fact that a lack of trust always decreases the chances of success. Also, there is no doubt that low levels of satisfaction associated with such situation cannot increase happiness levels within volunteer organizations and the entire community. Nevertheless, it can be also stated that levels of trust depend upon volunteers themselves and their attitudes to work. Consequently, there is a wide range of measures that they can take in order to ameliorate the situation; thus, they may start collaborating with another organization or improve team morale with the help of conversations.
According to another opinion that is supposed to contradict the main claim, an obvious weakness of volunteering with regard to happiness is the fact that some people are deprived of an opportunity to take part in such activities due to the lack of physical strength or resources. As it follows from this opinion, such situation is extremely unfavorable if we speak about happiness level. This point of view is supported by some of the authors whose works have been mentioned before; thus, Stephens et al. suppose that certain categories of people (such as senior citizens and ones from needy families) have to try harder in order to be seen as “involved in community activities” (25). As the authors state, such situation makes these people more likely to become isolated and unhappy. Therefore, I would like to focus on two points. First, the situation described by the authors exists due to unfair treatment of leaders of volunteer organizations who do not take into account different opportunities of volunteers. Besides, those people involved in this activity should focus more on their own feelings than on the opinions of other members. In other words, they should understand that they are already doing what they can and their contribution adds to effort of other people. In such case, their happiness levels will be likely to increase.
In the end, the arguments discussed throughout the paper touch upon different aspects of volunteer activities and their positive influence on happiness levels and self-esteem of contributors is difficult to overestimate. Even though there are statements that seem to weaken this point of view, it is obvious that these difficulties may be avoided and overall influence of volunteering on happiness levels is positive.
Anderson, Nichole D., et al. “The Benefits Associated with Volunteering Among Seniors: A Critical Review and Recommendations for Future Research.” Psychological Bulletin, vol. 140, no. 6, 2014, pp.1505-1533.
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Bekkers, René. “Trust and Volunteering: Selection or Causation? Evidence from a 4 Year Panel Study.” Political Behavior, vol. 34, no. 2, 2012, pp. 225-247.
Donahue, Haley, et al. “Community Involvement, Culture and Happiness.” Hope College, Web.
Dulin, Patrick L., et al. “Volunteering Predicts Happiness among Older Māori and Non-Māori in the New Zealand Health, Work, and Retirement Longitudinal Study.” Aging & Mental Health, vol. 16, no. 5, 2012, pp. 617-624.
Konrath, Sara. “The Power of Philanthropy and Volunteering.” Social Psychology, vol. 24, no. 1, 2012, pp. 91-101.
Pilkington, Pamela, et al. “Volunteering and Subjective Well-Being in Midlife and Older Adults: The Role of Supportive Social Networks.” The Journals of Gerontology Series B, vol. 67, no. 2, 2012, pp. 249–260.
Stephens, Christine, et al. “Volunteering as Reciprocity: Beneficial and Harmful Effects of Social Policies to Encourage Contribution in Older Age.” Journal of Aging Studies, vol. 33, 2015, pp. 22-27.
Townsend, Mardie, et al. “Volunteering in a School Kitchen Garden Program: Cooking up Confidence, Capabilities, and Connections.” VOLUNTAS: International Journal of Voluntary and Nonprofit Organizations, vol. 25, no. 1, 2014, pp. 225–247.