But something feels different this year, especially here in New York City, where many of us have directly benefitted in recent days from the efforts of these brave men and women as they offer their assistance in the wake of Hurricane Sandy.
Members of the Navy, the National Guard, the Marines, the Air Force and others -- not to mention New York and New Jersey police officers and firefighters -- have been instrumental in recovery efforts in the wake of the storm.
While we want to thank them -- and all military men and women who have dedicated their lives to serving others -- we can also learn from them. We all have something to give, even if it's just a little. And doing so is actually good for you.
"More than 61 million Americans volunteer to improve conditions for people in need and to unselfishly give of themselves," David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation for National and Community Service, said in a statement. "While the motivation is altruistic, it is gratifying to learn that their efforts are returning considerable health benefits."
In the slideshow below, we've compiled some of these health benefits of service. Let us know in the comments how you give back -- and how it makes you feel.
In a 2012 study, researchers found that spending time on others made people feel more efficient, and therefore like they didn't have to be in such a rush, compared to spending time on themselves or just wasting time.
Volunteering time gives mental health a boost. A 2003 study found that, especially among adults over 65, volunteer work lowered depression levels. And people facing harrowing circumstances, such as the death of a spouse or a sick child, bounce back quicker from symptoms of depression if they volunteer, iVillage reported.
Nearly three-quarters of volunteers reported that their good deeds lower stress levels in a United Healthcare survey, and there's research to back them up. When giving back, the body naturally releases the feel-good hormone oxytocin, which will in turn reduce exposure to stress hormones, iVillage reported, creating a sort of feel-good cycle.
While you'll feel better all over thanks to oxytocin, the heart in particular benefits from that dip in stress. Stress ups risk for high blood pressure, heart attacks and other heart problems, but volunteers actually show lower rates of heart disease. And a Duke University study of people who had already experienced heart attacks found that the mental health boost they got from volunteering in turn kept their hearts healthy down the road.
People who volunteer with the goal of helping others gain the added benefit of a longer life, compared to people who volunteer for more self-centered reasons, according to a 2011 study. "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," the study's co-author, Andrea Fuhrel-Forbis, said in a statement.