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The Science of Good Deeds

The 'helper's high' could help you live a longer, healthier life.

The Healing Hormone

Indeed, oxytocin may be connected to both physical and emotional well-being, says Fricchione. "Oxytocin is the mediator of what has been called the 'tend-mend' response, as opposed to the 'fight-flight' response to stress. When you're altruistic and touching people in a positive way, lending a helping hand, your oxytocin level goes up - and that relieves your own stress."

In one animal study, researchers looked at the numerous effects that oxytocin can produce in lab rats -- lower blood pressure, lower levels of stress hormones, and an overall calming effect.

Altruistic behavior may also trigger the brain's reward circuitry -- the 'feel-good' chemicals like dopamine and endorphins, and perhaps even a morphine-like chemical the body naturally produces, Fricchione explains. "If altruistic behavior plugs into that reward circuitry, it will have the potential to reduce the stress response. And if the altruistic behavior continues to be rewarding, it will be reinforced."

Again, Scrooge is a good example, says Post. "He comes alive because of his benevolent affections and emotions. What's really happening is that he's tapping into the whole neurology, endocrinology, and immunology of generosity.

"All the great spiritual traditions and the field of positive psychology are emphatic on this point -- that the best way to get rid of bitterness, anger, rage, jealousy is to do unto others in a positive way," Post tells WebMD. "It's as though you somehow have to cast out negative emotions that are clearly associated with stress -- cast them out with the help of positive emotions."

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