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“It's good to be just plain happy, it's a little better to know that you're happy; but to understand that you're happy and to know why and how and still be happy, be happy in the being and the knowing, well that is beyond happiness, that is bliss.” Henry Miller

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Invest in Happiness by Doing Good Deeds

If you want others to be happy, practice compassion.  If you want to be happy, practice compassion.  ~ Dalai Lama

No good deed goes unpunished.  This common cliché has been recently dis-proven.  Steven G. Post has conducted 50 scientific studies on Altruism, funded by the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love.  In the last few years, researchers have looked at the so-called helper's high and its effects on the human body.

 Scientists are searching to understand how the wish to perform good deeds improves our health and longevity. For instance, after following a group of women for 30 years, researchers found that 52% of those who did not volunteer had experienced a major illness -- compared with 36% who did volunteer.  Two large studies found that older adults who volunteered were living longer than non-volunteers. Another large study found a 44% reduction in early death among those who put frequently volunteered -- a greater benefit gain than exercising four times a week. Some smaller study groups pointed to lowered stress response and improved immunity (higher levels of protective antibodies) as a result of feeling empathy and love. The subjects had significant increases in protective antibodies associated with improved immunity -- and antibody levels remained high for an hour afterward. "Thus, 'dwelling on love' strengthened the immune system," writes Post.
Brain chemicals are also stimulated by acts of altruism. A recent study has identified high levels of the "bonding" hormone oxytocin in people who are very generous toward others. Oxytocin is the hormone best known as the “cuddle hormone.” Studies have also shown that this hormone helps both men and women establish trusting relationships. Doing good deeds may also trigger the brain's reward circuitry -- the 'feel-good' chemicals like dopamine and endorphins, and perhaps even a morphine-like chemical.

The phrase “random acts of kindness” has been popularized in recent years. At least one study, described in Reactions to Random Acts of Kindness, published in The Social Science Journal, April 01, 2000, indicates that targeted acts of kindness are more easily accepted without suspicion or alarm. 

So go ahead.  Make someone’s day.  Do a good deed.