Kindness Biology

“Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.”

Ahhh, the golden rule. We have been taught from a young age to be kind to others because that is how we would like others to treat us.

That’s a great rule of thumb. Unfortunately, your kindness may not always be reciprocated. Uh oh. How do you feel then?

As it turns out, the answer is: great! We tend to gain an intrinsic reward from helping others. Even more surprisingly, the reward involves both becoming happier AND improvements in your health.

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For some time, researchers have been measuring the benefits of giving, and their findings reveal that giving and volunteering help reduce stress and depression. They also promote healthy social connections and a sense of purpose. Stephen G. Post, professor of preventive medicine and the director and founder of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University, suggests that giving is just as important to maintaining health as avoiding tobacco and obesity.

In his book, Why Good Things Happen to Good People, Post wrote, “The startling findings from our many studies demonstrate that if you engage in helping activities as a teen, you will still be reaping health benefits 60 or 70 years later. Generous behavior is closely associated with reduced risk of illness and mortality and lower rates of depression.”

In a 2006 study, neuroscientist Jorge Moll and his colleagues at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give to charities, it activates regions of the brain associated with pleasure and trust, creating a “warm glow” effect – that fuzzy feeling.