“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” — Norman MacEwan [1]

As long as you live, you have an opportunity to alter and pursue your life’s purpose. When your purpose is to help others, you seek to focus on what you want to create rather than dwell on problems. This is called generativity: “a concern for people besides self and family.”[2] The benefits of generativity are wide-reaching; studies suggest that helping others can increase your happiness and improve your health.

When you’re generative, you don’t let the little ups and downs of life get to you.

Instead, you focus on something higher and more meaningful. According to psychologist Susan Krauss Whitbourne, putting others before yourself is a “stealth superpower.” [3] “The most ‘generative’ people have better long-term well-being” than people who focus purely on their own happiness. A research study conducted by Krauss Whitbourne and colleagues, “The codevelopment of generativity and well-being into early late life,” revealed “a robust concurrent relationship between generativity and well-being at the first assessment and meaningful correlated change over time.” [4]

According to a 2007 AmeriCorps study, “A growing body of research indicates that volunteering provides not just social benefits, but individual health benefits as well.” [5] The study concluded that there is “a strong relationship between volunteering and health: those who volunteer have lower mortality rates, greater functional ability, and lower rates of depression later in life than those who do not volunteer.” This finding is backed up by another study, this one on the association between mortality and feeling a purpose in life. The research, published in Psychosomatic Medicine, found that “greater purpose in life is associated with a reduced risk of all-cause mortality among community-dwelling older persons.” [6]

Perhaps helping others rather than focusing purely on our own well-being benefits us because the goal of volunteering may be closer to our hearts and our values than the job we have in the everyday world. Some self-exploration and mindful observation may be necessary to discover what kind of service would make you the happiest and benefit you the most. Look to the inspirations, passions, and joys you’ve experienced throughout your life and ask yourself these questions:

1. What do I love to do?

2. Which of my joys or passions feels like it might have potential beyond my own enjoyment and fulfillment?