In 1988, Psychology Today coined the phrase "Helper's High" to describe the health benefits of giving. The Institute for the Advancement of Health surveyed 1,500 members of a large women's volunteer group. Frequent helpers described a physical experience similar to that had by people who exercise vigorously or meditate. Endorphins are released during positive social contact with others, creating the opposite of the body's agitated condition under stress. Altruism needs to involve direct contact with others, and must be voluntary, to produce the effect.
Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University and a co-author of “Why Good Things Happen to Good People,” also makes the case for altruism leading to improved health:
“Giving significantly reduces mortality in later life. In this 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. The only activity that had a slightly higher effect was to stop smoking. And sociologist Marc Musick of the University of Texas at Austin found that individuals over 65 who volunteer are significantly less likely to die over the next eight years than those who do no volunteer work.”
And there are lots more studies just like this one. Visit whygoodthingshappen.com to learn more about his book and research on altruism.
Another example of generosity benefitting health is found in the story of Cami Walker.
Her book, “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life,” recounts the alleviation of her MS symptoms through giving.
“The first day of my personal 29-Day Giving Challenge was preceded by a sleepless night. I was awake all night feeling angry and sorry for myself during a difficult flare up of my Multiple Sclerosis. When insomnia hits, I often go through old journals and read them. I found a note that I'd made during a phone session with one of my spiritual teachers, Mbali Creazzo, two months before. The note said, "Give something away each day for 29 days." It was 3 a.m. and I decided in that moment to take the suggestion.”
“By Day 29, I was astounded by the magical and miraculous shifts in my energy for life:
- I was feeling happier, healthier, and more in awe with life.
- I found myself smiling and laughing more.
- My body got stronger and I was able to stop walking with my cane by Day 14.
- My business exploded with new, unexpected opportunities and I was able to go back to work part-time again after months of being too sick to work.
- I began connecting with a community of new friends in Los Angeles after feeling isolated in my new home for several months. With help from the website, I also reconnected with my community of friends from San Franciscio and the Midwest, where I had lived previously.
- My creativity opened up and I began writing stories regularly.
This process inspired Cami to start www.29gifts.org, where people can start their own giving challenge, share their stories and connect with causes.
Wow. Anyone out there want to do this with me? Cold and flu season is right around the corner... we could try a little study of our own and see if we ward off the usual germs. Comment if you want to try it. I’m in.