Volunteer and live to 100? Why Good Things Happen to Good People

Stephen Post and Jill Neimark have written a popular book on the health benefits of volunteering and doing good to others called Why Good Things Happen to Good People (2007) . More information available from their web site.

The book is written in a quite accessible way and captures many of the underlying research that talks about the health benefits of social connectedness, although they also have a special focus on how giving provides pleasure, happiness, and boosts immunological protection.

Among the studies they cite:

  • High School giving predicted positive physical and mental health some 50 years later (Psychologist Paul Wink, Wellesley College studying some 200 individuals from 1920-1970)
  • Giving significantly reduces mortality in sernior years. (Doug Oman, Univ. of California at Berkeley) Among individuals 55+ years of age, those who volunteered for two+ organizations reduced their chance of dying in the next 5 years 44% over those who didn’t. Only the cessation of smoking had a slightly higher health impact.
  • Giving eases economic anxiety. (Neal Krause, Univ. of Michigan) Among a population of 1000 churchgoing adults, those who had offered social support to others experienced reduced anxiety if they later came under economic stress.
  • Helping others increases your longevity, but receiving the same  help does not. (Psychologist Stephanie Brown, Univ. of Michigan).  Brown studied 400 older couples. Even adjusting for age, gender, physical and emotional health, personality, and marital status, Brown found that the givers were twice as likely to remain alive in the 5 years studied.
  • Sometimes just ‘thinking’ charitable thoughts is healthy. For example, a new NIH study found that just deciding to donate to a charity helps release the feel-good chemicals, dopamine and serotonin in the brain. And a Harvard University study (by David McClellan) showed that merely watching a movie of Mother Theresa boosted the immune system and that this could be sustained after the watching by thinking about this giving that had been observed.
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