Kind of an interesting title isn't it? Wondering why you'd see something like this on a financial blog? Because the answer is related to our personal finances (indirectly, but still related.)
I've been reading the book Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research that Proves the Link Between Doing Good and Living a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life. Here's a quick summary of it:
Surprising new scientific research conducted at many of the nation’s top universities—from the likes of Harvard, Princeton, Yale, Stanford, and the University of Chicago—now offers convincing evidence of the life-enhancing benefits of giving, kindness, and compassion. These studies powerfully confirm that giving has a substantial protective effect on mental and physical well-being over a lifetime. Giving is powerful medicine, and it’s available to every single one of us.
In WHY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE, the exciting new research shows that when we give of ourselves, especially if we start young, everything from life-satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly affected. Mortality is delayed, depression is reduced, and well-being and good fortune are increased.
The remarkable findings include a fifty-year study indicating that people who are “giving” during their high school years have better physical and mental health throughout their lives. They even reveal that giving protects overall health twice as much as aspirin protects against heart disease! Other studies also demonstrate that people of all ages that help others on a regular basis, even in small ways, feel the happiest.
Together both Post and Neimark proclaim they have one simple message to offer: giving is the most potent force on the planet. Giving is the one kind of love you can count on, because you can always choose it; it’s always within your power to give. Giving will protect you your whole life long.
From the book's site:
A longer life. A happier life. A healthier life. Above all, a life that matters—so that when you leave this world, you'll have changed it for the better. If science said you could have all this just by altering one behavior, would you?
Dr. Stephen Post has been making headlines by funding studies at the nation's top universities to prove once and for all the life-enhancing benefits of giving behavior. The exciting new research shows that when we give of ourselves, especially if we start young, everything from life-satisfaction to self-realization and physical health is significantly affected. Mortality is delayed. Depression is reduced. Well-being and good fortune are increased.
The inspiring new research includes a fifty-year study showing that people who are giving during their high school years have better physical and mental health throughout their lives. Other studies show that older people who give live longer than those who don't. Helping others has been shown to bring health benefits to those with chronic illness, including HIV, multiple sclerosis, and heart problems. And studies show that people of all ages who help others on a regular basis, even in small ways, feel happiest.
Why Good Things Happen to Good People offers ten ways to give of yourself, in four areas of life, all shown by science to improve your health and even add to your life expectancy. (And not one requires you to write a check.) The one-of-a-kind "Love and Longevity Scale" scores you on all ten ways, from volunteering to listening, loyalty to forgiveness, celebration to standing up for what you believe in. Using the lessons and guidelines in each chapter, you can create a personalized plan for a more generous life, finding the style of giving that suits you best.
So what are the specific findings they keep talking about? Here's a summary:
- Giving in high school predicts good physical and mental health in late adulthood, a time interval of over 50 years!
- 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.
- Generous behavior reduces adolescent depression and suicide risk.
- Giving quells anxiety.
- Late in life, giving to others helps facilitate self-forgiveness.
- Giving to others increases your longevity, although receiving the same kind of help did not. 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 significant support to others were more than twice as likely to remain alive in that five year period. These surprising findings ruled out other factors like personality, health, mental health and marital relationship variables.
- Giving is so powerful that sometimes even just ‘thinking’ charitable thoughts helps us. 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. A new study from the National Institutes of Health shows that merely making a decision to donate to a charity increases activity in parts of the brain that release our feel-good chemicals, dopamine and serotonin. And a new Harvard University study showed that just watching a movie of helping activity boosts the immune system.
If you'd like to read more on this topic, here are some thoughts on giving from the co-author.
I'm still processing much of what the book has to say, but here are my initial thoughts:
1. For the most part, the giving they're talking about isn't financial, it's giving of yourself (volunteering, serving, simply doing acts of kindness, etc.) That said, there are some references on the power of giving money in the book.
2. This data is simply incredible! The only activity that had more of an impact on mortality was stopping smoking? Amazing!
3. If this is true, my wife will live to be 389 years old.
4. Personally, we give of both our money (tithes and offerings) as well as our time (we both serve on the board of a non-profit, I also volunteer as my son's basketball coach, my wife sings at church and teaches the 4th and 5th graders.) I never thought about it potentially making us live longer, better lives. But we have always had a "good feeling" about helping others, so maybe we were experiencing the benefits of giving.
For more thoughts on the subject of giving from me, check out these posts:
What's your take on this issue?