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Archive for April, 2010

Helper’s High

There is no shortage of studies that show that happier people live longer.  They are also less likely to suffer heart attacks, strokes and pain from conditions like rheumatoid arthritis.  It is also well documented that people who express positive emotions come down with fewer colds and flus after being exposed to the virus than those who express negative emotions like anger sadness or stress.  So how can we get “happy” and stay there?

In their book, The Healing Power of Doing Good, Allan Luks and Peggy Payne talk about the “helper’s high,” a feeling of exhilaration and a burst of energy similar to that experienced after intense exercise, followed by a period of calmness and serenity.

For the book, Luks studied over 3,000 Americans involved in volunteer services to find that these do-gooders reported a helper’s high that lasted several weeks and improved other aspects of their lives. They also report that the euphoric sensation returned when they remembered the action of helping others.

The benefits of charity go beyond improving sensations and emotions.  Of the group Luks studied for his book, 90% reported that volunteering acted as an antidote to stress, chronic pain, and even insomnia.

Another study found that members of volunteer organizations lived longer and experienced better health. The volunteers experienced noteworthy decreases in levels of blood pressure, stomach acid and cholesterol counts. Harvard University in a similar study dubbed the “Mother Teresa effect” showed 132 students a film about Mother Teresa’s work among the Calcutta’s poor, and than measured the level of Immunoglobin A, present in the saliva.  The test revealed increased levels of immunoglobin A which is the body’s first defense against the common cold virus – all after simply witnessing somebody else involved in charity work.

These studies show how important acts of altruism are in boosting a sense of well-being and maintaining good health.  It also shows why we should never pass up a chance to deliver a thank you note to someone who has been especially kind or helpful but never properly appreciated, or why it would pay to be there for someone even though it is not convenient.  But perhaps most importantly it also supports the dictum that the surest way to happiness is to lose yourself in a cause greater than yourself.

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