Thanks (to yourself) for the giving

Nov
27
2015
by
Lynne McTaggart
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0
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For Americans like me, when I try to ponder on what I’m most thankful this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, what first comes to mind is all the people I try to serve, like you - my readers and subscribers – for a very selfish reason: you are what’s keeping me healthy.

 

For Americans like me, when I try to ponder on what I’m most thankful this Thanksgiving holiday weekend, what first comes to mind is all the people I try to serve, like you - my readers and subscribers – for a very selfish reason: you are what’s keeping me healthy.

Lately I’ve come across a good deal of evidence showing that people who help others live longer and healthier lives. One of the largest studies of this kind was carried out by Karl Pillemer of Cornell University, who examined some 7000 people in total, comparing the health of those who volunteered to help with projects attempting to address environmental issues such as pollution or toxic waste, with the health of those who avoided volunteer work like the plague.

Pillemer tracked the health histories all 7000 for 20 years. He found that those who’d volunteered were far healthier and more physically active, and half as likely to be depressed as those who weren’t engaged in that kind of volunteer work.

What this means, of course, is that offering your time to work for the greater good produces more than just a warm and fuzzy feeling. It proves strengthening to both mind and the body.

Counters stress
In fact, if you’re suffering from severe stress, you’re more likely to overcome it once you turn your attention to someone else.

One study of more than 800 people suffering from severe stress were followed by University of Buffalo researchers for five years to compare the state of their health with the extent to which they’d helped anyone outside the home, including relatives, friends or neighbors.

That little bit of helping acted like a bulletproof vest. When faced with future stressful situations, like illness, financial difficulties, job loss or death in the family, those who had helped others during the previous year were far less likely to die than those who hadn’t.

The contrast between people who help and those who don’t couldn’t be starker. When faced with each new stressful event, those who’d decided not to lend a hand increased their chances of dying by 30 per cent

Better than a good diet
So what’s the amazing key to this? Yet another study of California senior residents showed that those who were involved in volunteer work had 63 per cent lower mortality rates than those who weren’t, a situation, noted the Stanford researchers, “only partly explained by health habits, physical functioning, religious attendance and social support.”

Something about the desire to do something for someone else with no strings attached or personal benefit has an impact on health and well-being far and above that of diet and lifestyle, social support and religious belief.

In fact, there’s no longer any question that it is better to give than to receive. It’s been found, among older Americans, that those who give experience less illness than those who are on the receiving end of the kind gesture.

After Robert Putnam of Harvard University wrote his ground-breaking book Bowling Alone, which woke Americans up to the fraying of the social fabric across the US, researchers at the John F. Kennedy School at Harvard decided to explore exactly what makes for what they refer to as ‘social capital’ – happiness, close-knit communities and satisfied residents – by carrying out a survey among 30,000 people in communities across America.

What they found was revelatory. Money just didn’t do it for people. Emotional happiness had very little to do with your bank balance once you achieved an annual income above $75,000. That was the benchmark for happiness. People below that income were miserable because they were struggling just to pay the bills, but once you achieved that level of income, making more money than that just didn’t equate to any greater happiness.

But the one factor that made for the greatest sense of happiness and satisfaction was lending a helping hand. In fact those willing to give of their time or money were 42 per cent more likely to be happy than those who didn’t.

High on giving
Psychologists have discovered what they refer to as a ‘helper’s high.’ When people who volunteer are surveyed, they frequently describe feeling physically the same as if they’d undergone vigorous physical exercise or a bout of meditation, largely because during this kind of social contact, the body releases endorphins, countering all the biological effects of stress.

This leads me to a heretical thought. Maybe the endpoint of the ‘I want, I get’ good-life scenario is that it ultimately kills you.

The key to a long and healthy life is living a life that concerns itself with a meaning beyond satisfying the needs of number 1. And if that is true, the entire New Age premise of intention – using the universe as essentially a restaurant, with you the customer ordering whatever dinner you happen to fancy – is wrong.

Getting what you want in your own life starts with the readiness to give.

John Paul Sartre was wrong. Hell is not other people. Other people, it turns out, are your salvation.

Lynne McTaggart

Lynne McTaggart is an award-winning journalist and the author of seven books, including the worldwide international bestsellers The Power of Eight, The Field, The Intention Experiment and The Bond, all considered seminal books of the New Science and now translated into some 30 languages.

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