We teach our young children that if they misbehave, a jolly old man in a red suit will see and send them straight to the naughty list. Those children will not reap the benefits of presents and instead will get a stocking full of coal (much to their disappointment and raising the ire of environmentalists). As we get older, the impact of St Nick subsides and we do not fear lack of presents as a consequence of our undesirable actions.
What if “being good” could improve our health? Altruism is defined as the unselfish concern for the welfare of others. In other words, doing good deeds for other people without any return (or Quid Pro Quo as Donald Trump likes to say). There are many studies linking altruism to health. In 2013, a study was published that examined the relationship between volunteering and blood pressure. Researchers found that adults over 50 who volunteered about four hours a week were 40 percent less likely than non-volunteers to have developed high blood pressure after four years. Another study in the same year looked at helping others and the effect on stress and death. It showed that doing good deeds like running errands, babysitting for family and friends reduced stress and people lived longer. They say that money can’t buy happiness and for most part that’s true. No matter what new gadget you get or how large your house is, they don’t bring happiness. But giving money away may buy you some happiness. A study from researchers at Harvard and the University of British Columbia showed that people were happier when spending money on others rather than themselves.
When we do something good for someone else, certain chemicals are released in our brains such as oxytocin and endorphins. These feel good chemicals cause a “helper’s high” which can reduce the stress chemicals, such as cortisol. Friends and family who witness the change are often likely to emulate; in other words, being a good Samaritan may become socially contagious. This reduction in stress can have beneficial effects — physically, emotionally and spiritually. So start today. Do a good deed for someone else. Your health may improve. Take care of yourselves and each other.