It's a classic tale, the story of Ebenezer Scrooge -- the epitome of
selfishness, the quintessential mean-spirited, miserly, narcissistic old man.
Yet as Scrooge discovers the joy of good deeds, he blooms with the
"helper's high" - and his spirit is reborn. And a merrier man had never
been seen, as the story goes.
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
just how altruism -- the wish to perform good deeds -- affects our health, even
By Anna Davies
How to understand (and then unload!) the clutter that drags you
Have you ever found yourself gazing longingly at the spare and tidy living
rooms, kitchens, and home offices in a furniture catalog and wishing you
could live in that world? No mess, everything neatly in its place — it's a
setup that would last, oh, approximately seven seconds here on planet Earth!
Fact is, you have a big, hectic, possibly messy real life — a life that
you'll enjoy a lot more...
Acts of heroism are one form of altruism -- as we saw on 9/11, when firemen
rushed into the World Trade Center. Many firemen, chaplains, and citizens
joined the rescue and recovery effort, working grueling 12-hour shifts.
In everyday life, countless people choose to give up free time to volunteer
-- whether it's serving at soup kitchens, cleaning up litter, taking elderly
people to the grocery store, or helping a next-door neighbor.
What prompts a human being to act heroically? What makes us perform good
deeds? When we act on behalf of other people, research shows that they
feel greater comfort, less stress. But what about the do-gooder's physiology --
how is it affected? Can doing good make us healthier, as a growing number of
scientists now believe? Can it even, as studies suggest, help us live
This is the focus of 50 scientific studies funded through The Institute for
Research on Unlimited Love, headed by Stephen G. Post, PhD, a professor of
bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. It is a
comprehensive investigation of altruism, aka benevolence, compassion,
generosity, and kindness.
The Innate Need to Do Good
It's no surprise that, when we're on the receiving end of love, we reap a
benefit. "There are ample studies showing that when people receive
generosity and compassion, there is a positive effect on their health and
well-being," Post tells WebMD.
Examples: "When a compassionate physician creates a safe haven for the
ill patient, the patient experiences relief from stress," he explains.
"One study showed that when men felt loved by their wives, they were less
likely to experience chest pain that might signal a heart attack."
Only in recent years have researchers explored the scientific underpinnings
of the notion that "doing good" is indeed a good thing -- and precisely
why it is good for us. Indeed, many scientific disciplines --
evolution, genetics, human development, neurology, social science, and positive
psychology -- are at the heart of this investigation, says Post.