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It's Good to be Good

May 19, 2011 11:08PM ● Published by Anonymous

“The word is out—it’s good to be good. Science increasingly says so,”maintains Stephen Post, researcher and author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People. Post maintains that “doing good”—volunteering and giving of oneself to others—produces significant health benefits. “One of the best things we can do for our health is to learn to be more caring and compassionate,” he says. “Acts of kindness always move us away from hostile and angry emotions that are clearly connected with elevated stress and higher mortality over the years.” Post points to the growing body of research that indicates that selfless instances of giving actually elevate levels of dopamine and oxytocin, which “trigger a number of favorable physiological changes throughout the body,” including the reduction of stress hormones.

 

Allan Luks, an author and longtime not-for-profit executive, echoes this finding. In a baseline 1988 study, he surveyed more than 3,000 volunteers across the country and found a clear cause-and-effect relationship between helping others and good health. He found that performing acts
of kindness can:
• improve stress-related health problems
• decrease awareness and intensity of physical pain
• enhance feelings of joyfulness, emotional resilience, and vigor
• reduce feelings of hostility and isolation
• increase feelings of self-worth and optimism
• establish social connections that strengthen the immune system.

Luks found that when we give of ourselves, we experience what he called “a helper’s high,” a rush of endorphins which produces “a feeling of euphoria that is followed by a longer period of calm and improved well-being.” Forty-three percent of those surveyed described themselves as “stronger and more energetic;” 22 percent said they felt “calmer and less depressed;” and 13 percent actually reported “fewer aches and pains.”

A 2007 study by the Corporation for National & Community Service focused on older Americans and saw “a significant connection between volunteering and good health;” the data indicated that people who give of themselves have greater longevity, higher functional ability, lower rates of depression, and less incidence of heart disease. “Volunteering makes the heart grow stronger,” said David Eisner, CEO of the Corporation. Another executive, Robert Grimm, saw the findings as especially “relevant to Baby Boomers, who are receiving as well as giving when they help others.” For them, just “two hours of volunteering a week can bring meaningful benefit to a person’s body and mind.”

Peripatetic grandmother and Crofton resident Joyce Maloney joined the American Cancer Society when she first moved to Anne Arundel County 33 years ago. She has been an active volunteer ever since. “There is always time for meaningful things,” she says. “I’ve met so many wonderful friends though volunteering. You give what you give, but you always get so much more back.”

So, exactly how do we “do good?” Becoming hands-on may be easier than you think. In order to experience the physical and psychological benefits touted by experts, why not start close to home? Does a parent or elderly neighbor need a ride or a visit? (I make a point of checking on my 81-year old neighbor who regularly checks on a lady up the street who is 91!) Does a child on your block need tutoring? Does a harried parent need a break? Have you seen a neighbor or relative struggling with repair jobs? Will your smile and an hour’s conversation make the difference for a depressed or lonely person?

Another way to share your talents and improve your psychological outlook is by establishing a relationship with local religious and civic organizations, which are traditional leaders in outreach and giving. Does your church or synagogue have a food pantry or clothes drive? Do the Kiwanis or Lions clubs need some help? Could a community beautification project use an extra hand? If you are unable to make a connection on your own, the internet is a wondrous resource. A variety of websites function as matchmakers between volunteers and volunteering opportunities, from local to global in nature. (For a list of Eastern Shore and Anne Arundel County nonprofit organizations to consider, see page XX, or visit whatsupmag.com.)

Harvard researcher Thomas Sander sees volunteering as “the new hybrid health club for the 21st century that’s free to join.” So why not improve your
health and your community? Why not extend your life by extending a hand? Kathleen Jepsen is a former Anne Arundel County teacher who regularly contributes to What’s Up?.

Looking to lend a hand? Information for potential volunteers is just a click or call away:

Allforgood.org is a national database listing opportunities right in your backyard—from the Eastern Shore to Laurel.

Volunteerannearundel.org focuses on opportunities in Anne Arundel County.

Retired and Senior Volunteer Program (RSVP) is part of a national network of senior volunteers cooperating with county schools, libraries, museums, departments of aging, state and county police, local hospitals, environmental projects, and other agencies to develop meaningful, satisfying volunteer opportunities for seniors. Call 410-222-6717 for activities in our area.

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