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Selflessly volunteering not only makes the world around you a better place, but emerging research has found another karmic benefit: If you’re doing it for all the right reasons, volunteering actually helps you live longer.

The study, which was published in Health Psychology, revealed that people who volunteered to help others for purely unselfish reasons ended up with a mortality rate four years later than those who volunteered to help themselves or did not volunteer at all.

“This could mean that people who volunteer with other people as their main motivation may be buffered from potential stressors associated with volunteering, such as time constraints and lack of pay,” said Sara Konrath, the study’s lead author, in an American Psychological Association press release.

Researchers analyzed data from the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study. Participants answered questions as to why they decided to volunteer — “I feel it is important to help others,” “Volunteering is an important activity to the people I know best,” “Volunteering is a good escape from my own troubles,” “Volunteering makes me feel better about myself,” etc. — and researchers also took into account the respondents’ physical health, socioeconomic status, marital status, health risk factors, mental health and social support.

“It is reasonable for people to volunteer in part because of benefits to the self; however, our research implies that, ironically, should these benefits to the self become the main motive for volunteering, they may not see those benefits,” said co-author Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis, according to APA.

Heather Rudow is a staff writer for Counseling Today. Email her at hrudow@counseling.org.

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