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AP Photo/Marcio Jose Sanchez
Volunteering washes away stress.
GIVE A LITTLE

Volunteering makes you feel good—but Americans are doing less and less of it

By Melvin Backman

Jillian Berman at the Huffington Post has a very nice story on the mental benefits of volunteering. She discusses a paper from Switzerland and a study from a trio of Ivy League researchers that suggest volunteering can make you feel like you have more time, and ease stress. Berman also describes her own experiences, helping out Sundays at a Brooklyn non-profit:

Those findings resonate with me. I’m under no illusion that my volunteering efforts make a huge difference: I only spend a few hours a week with these kids, and sometimes I can’t understand their math homework. But I relish this time where all that’s expected of me is to try my best to help a kid understand the difference between cold- and warm-blooded animals or grasp the significance of the Louisiana Purchase.

Alas, not enough Americans are experiencing the positive effects (to themselves) of giving back to society. According to the US Bureau of Labor Statistics’ annual look at volunteering, last year saw the fewest people doing it since the BLS starting tracking it in 2001. It was a broad decline, too: every ethnic group volunteered the same amount or less—except for black people, who volunteered more than before. Those who still volunteer, typically spent around 50 hours a year at it, about the same as usual.