Have you ever heard the saying “Only the good die young?” Recent science, however, has proven that the opposite is true! The “good” are living longer, and science is finding empirical evidence that connects an attitude of giving with increased healing, longevity and overall happiness.
A new science of health and giving is emerging. Over the past ten years, more than five hundred reputable scientific studies have demonstrated the power of unselfish love to enhance health and increase longevity. These studies draw on the insights of scientist from diverse fields – psychology, evolutionary biology, cross-cultural anthropology, gerontology, epidemiology, public health, religion, and human development. The bottom line of the research is the proven power of giving for healthier life.
“There is no better exercise for your heart than reaching down and helping to lift someone up.” ~ Bernard Meltzer
These days, researchers are bringing love into the doctor’s office, asking physicians to prescribe generous behavior. We recommended the same, especially during the holiday season, and here is why:
Giving reduces mortality significantly in later life, even when you start late.
A study done by Doug Oman of the University of California at Berkeley followed almost two thousand individuals over the age of fifty-five for five years. The study found that those who volunteer for two or more organizations have an impressive 44 percent lower likelihood of dying – and that’s after sifting out every other contributing factor (physical health, exercise, gender, smoking, marital status, etc.) That reduction in mortality is truly impressive considering that it is stronger than that associated with mobility (39 percent), exercising four times a week (30 percent), or attendance at religious services (29 percent). The only activity with a slightly higher effect is to stop smoking (which reduces mortality by 49 percent).
Giving is more powerful than receiving in its ability to reduce mortality.
A large scientific literature has already found that both control and self-esteem are beneficial for health and well-being, and Neal Krause of the School of Public Health and Institute of Gerontology at the University of Michigan tested this in a new study of 976 churchgoing adults over a period of three years. Krause found that offering social support to others reduces people’s anxiety over their own economic situation when they are under economic stress. He suspects that this extends to other stress as well—that giving reduces stress about your own life and thus lengthens your life.
Helping friends, relatives, and neighbors, along with providing emotional support to a spouse, reduces mortality.
Psychologist Stephanie Brown of the University of Michigan spent five years studying 423 older couples. After adjusting for age, gender, and physical and emotional health, Brown found that those who provided no significant support to others were more than twice as likely to die in that five-year period. These surprising findings ruled out other factors like personality, health, mental health, and marital relationship variables.
Even the simple act of praying for others, Neal Krause found, reduces the harmful impact of health difficulties in old age for those doing the praying.
Other research by the sociologist Marc Musick of the University of Texas at Austin and his colleagues found that for people age sixty-five and older, volunteer work substantially reduces symptoms of depression. According to another study by Musick and his colleagues, individuals over sixty-five who volunteer are significantly less likely to die over the next eight years than those who do no volunteer work.
Musick found that simply adding the volunteering role itself is protective.
Giving activates the “helper’s high”
The “helper’s high” was named by Allan Luks in 1988. Luks looked at the physical effects of giving experienced by more than 1,700 women who volunteered regularly. The studies demonstrated that a full 50 percent of helpers reported feeling “high” when they helped others, while 43 percent felt stronger and more energetic. An astonishing 13 percent even experienced fewer aches and pains. As Harvard cardiologist Herbert Benson puts it, helping others is a door through which one can go to forget oneself and experience our natural hard-wired physical sensation. As the runner’s high happens when a runner’s endorphin levels rise, the helper’s high happens when people perform good deeds for others.
States like compassion are hardwired and can also be identified with functional magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) of the brain. Cultivating appreciation and gratitude for life lowers stress hormones like cortisol. Giving massage and physical touch is directly correlated to lower levels of stress hormones. A future direction for research lies in pinpointing the precise neurobiology of generous behavior, but these fascinating studies provide ample support to act from a generous heart.
When it comes to our health and vitality, it is not only the survival of the fittest but the survival of the kindness that counts! The growing body of evidence shows that the more compassionate and collaborative we become, the more we thrive and survive.
We can see through the science that the more we give love, the more we discover life in all its force, vitality, joy, and buoyancy. We experience greater health, higher energy and happier relationships. Every one of these recent studies are examples of our body’s built-in reward system for those who help others.
This year we have the unique opportunity to give to one another as Multiple Myeloma patients through HealthTree and make large steps together towards a cure. Whether giving to spouses, neighbors, children, parents or strangers, the science of giving and health can only begin to measure the power of love for a healthier world.
For more, share this book with your loved ones this holiday season Why Good Things Happen to Good People