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The art of happiness...Is volunteering the blueprint for bliss?


New research indicates that helping others raises quality of life for British Citizens.

When we volunteer our time to do something for others, such as helping out an elderly neighbour or taking part in a local community project, it can be good news for our health, our children’s education and even reduce the local crime rate too.

Recent research funded by the Economic & Social Research Council (ESRC) has revealed that people who live in areas that record high levels of informal voluntary activity in their neighbourhood, also enjoy better health, students achieve higher GCSE grades and their communities suffer fewer burglaries. Professor Paul Whiteley, Programme Director of the ESRC Democracy & Participation Research Programme that produced the findings explains “The research has revealed an interesting link between helping others and enjoying a good quality of life. It seems that when we focus on the needs of others, we may also reap benefits ourselves. It means that voluntary activity in the community is associated with better health, lower crime, improved educational performance and greater life satisfaction. Communities with lots of civic and community engagement are also communities that have environments that foster favourable outcomes such as these”.

Volunteering has a positive influence, irrespective of a community’s social class or wealth. “A relatively poor community with lots of voluntary activity can do better in relation to health, crime and education than a relatively affluent community which lacks such activity” explains Whiteley. The research also tested for links between voluntary activity and overall life satisfaction or happiness. Again there is a strong link between communities with lots of volunteering and those where people are very satisfied with their lives.

At the top of the happiness league, and who recorded high levels of volunteering activity, are residents of provincial cities such as Bristol, Chester, Aberdeen and Cardiff and those from Home Counties such as South Cambridge and Rutland. Sevenoaks in Kent recorded the highest percentage of those who are ‘very satisfied with life’. Whereas inhabitants of London suburbs such as Luton and Waltham Forest or northern cities like Salford, Carlisle and Hull were the least satisfied with their lot, recording the lowest scores in the life satisfaction stakes.

The Home Secretary, the Rt Hon David Blunkett comments “Volunteering is a growing activity. Government figures show that in 2003, 51 per cent of people in England participated in their community – around 20.3 million people. The equivalent contribution to the economy made by people volunteering formally and informally in their community was around 42.6 billion pounds in 2003. Volunteering clearly has benefits for citizens, families and communities. That is why the Government is developing and strengthening our partnership with the voluntary sector, especially in order to reach out to our most deprived communities”.

The research sample was based on 101 district authorities selected at random.

Becky Gammon | alfa
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