A longer life. A happier life. A healthier life. Above all, a life that matters…”
So begins a synopsis of Dr. Stephen Post’s and author Jill Neimark’s Why Good Things Happen to Good People (2008). It shares results of a number of studies (conducted over decades) along with individual stories proving its main point that being good and doing good is healthy.
Dr. Post (Director, Center for Medical Humanities, Stony Brook University) suggests that there is a science behind altruistic behavior. A few samples of the studies in his book that support this science of goodness:
- Psychologist Paul Wink of Wellesley College studied nearly 200 individuals who have been followed closely since the 1920’s, when they were children, and found that giving protected longevity as well as mental health even half a century later.
He notes “a few caveats to this study: the participants grew up in San Francisco’s East Bay in the 1920’s and were mostly white and main line Protestants. They were evenly distributed among lower, middle, and upper classes financially… Good deeds allow us to see the good in our own nature, to develop a certain confidence about ourselves that helps us through difficult times.”
- In a new study from Doug Oman of the University of California at Berkeley, 2,000 individuals over age 55 were studied for five years. Those who volunteered for two or more organizations had an impressive 44% lower likelihood of dying.
From the author, “That reduction in mortality is truly impressive considering that it is stronger than that associated with mobility (39%), exercising four times a week (30%), or attendance at religious services (29%). The only activity with a slightly higher effect is to stop smoking (which reduces mortality by 49%).”
- Neal Krause of the University of Michigan followed 976 churchgoing adults over a period of three years. One of his findings was that the simple act of praying for others reduces the harmful impact of health difficulties in old age for those doing the praying.
A quick search at my local library produced a number of other titles that echo these findings on health and well being as an outcome of altruism. If you’d like to supplement your summer reading, here is a beginning of what I found:
- Field Notes on the Compassionate Life: A search for the soul of kindness by Marc Barasch.
- The Longevity Bible: 8 essential strategies for keeping your mind sharp and your body young by Gary Small.
- A Pretty Good Person: What it takes to live with courage, gratitude, and integrity, or When Pretty Good is as Good as You Can Be by Lewis B. Smedes.
- Spontaneous Happiness by Andrew Weil.
It may come as no surprise that the good referred to in these studies and books resulting in a longer life, a happier life, a healthier life is also written about in the Bible.
The first chapter of Genesis in its brevity of only 31 verses, uses the phrase, “God saw that it was good” 6 times and concludes with, “And God saw everything that he had made and behold it was very good.” For me this is the science Dr. Post writes of – goodness with a consequent reality that is provable, a principle or a law of God.
One might conclude that by being good and doing good we find ourselves in better health.
Read more here.