Helping Others is Good for You

The website inCharacter.org has an interview with Dr. Stephen G. Post, author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving, and president of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love. (Call me a cynic, but the name “Institute for Research on Unlimited Love” does not instil in me a lot of confidence; it sounds like a hippie farm or a horrific Orwellian government office.)  An excerpt:

IC: What about altruism and longevity?

POST: A remarkable fact is that giving, even in later years, can delay death. The impact of giving is just as significant as not smoking and avoiding obesity. A 2005 study conducted by Alex Harris and Carl Thoresen of Stanford University found that frequent volunteering is strongly linked to later mortality. Called the Longitudinal Study on Aging, it followed more than 7,500 older people for six years. Volunteering was a powerful protector of mental and physical health. Another study, a 1992 survey of older people by Neal Krause of the University of Michigan found that helping others lowers depression. Krause found that, for older men, ten years of volunteering can dramatically slash mortality rates. Another researcher, Doug Oman and his colleagues did a study involving 2,025 older residents of California and found that those who volunteered had a 44 percent reduction in mortality-and those who volunteered for two or more organizations had an astonishing 63 percent lower mortality rate than non-volunteers. If you are an older adult, I have one recommendation: volunteer!

I like that research like this is being done.  As with any study like this you have to be careful not to mistake correlation with causation, but I would guess that these studies at least attempted to control for this, and I would guess that there is SOME element of volunteerism actually causing longer life.  Serving others – performing a use for society – gives a person purpose and a drive to keep living.

Studies like this – and like the marriage study I blogged about a few months ago – have helped me understand a passage from Conjugial Love that confused me the first time I read it.  Conjugial Love n. 130 says,

In brief summary, [wisdom of life] is this: to flee evils because they are harmful to the soul, harmful to the civil state, and harmful to the body, and to do good things because they are of benefit to the soul, to the civil state, and to the body.

The soul and the civil state made sense – the body, not so much.  But more and more research confirms this: things like anger and deceit are harmful to the body, whereas things like doing good are beneficial to the body.  Research like this contributes directly to “wisdom of life” in that it shows just how evil is bad for the body and good is good for it.

That said, it seems like there must be a point where over-volunteering becomes a health risk, rather than a benefit.  I’ve talked to several people who have had doctors tell them that for the sake of their health, they have to stop doing so much.  And I think over-volunteering is often tied with the falsity that we have to do enough good works to merit heaven (Swedenborg has a great description of people in the spiritual world who fell into this fallacy in Arcana Coelestia n. 1110).  I’d like to see research into where that healthy balance is and how people can find it.

http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/ac/index.htm (Arcana Coelestia)

(http://www.sacred-texts.com/swd/cjl/index.htm (Conjugial love)

Fruits of Faith and Capability of Receiving it in the Other Life

Fruits of Faith and Capability of Receiving it in the Other Life

The fruits of faith are none other than a life according to the precepts of faith. A life according to these precepts is therefore saving; but not faith without the life. For a man carries all the states of his life with him after death, so that he is such as his character had been in the body. For exam­ple, he who had despised others in comparison with himself in the life of the body, in the other life also despises others in comparison with himself; he who had indulged in hatred to his neighbour in the life of the body, bears hatred to his neighbour in the other life also; he who had dealt deceitfully with his associates in the life of the body, is deceitful to his associates also in the other life; and so on. Every one retains in the other life the nature he had acquired in the life of the body; and it is known that the nature cannot be put away, and that if put away nothing of life would remain. Hence it is that only works of charity are mentioned by the Lord; for he who is in works of charity, or what is the same, in the life of faith, has the capability of receiving faith, if not in the body yet in the other life; but he who is not in works of charity, or in the life of faith, has by no means any capability of receiving faith, either in the body or in the other life. For evil never har­monizes with truth, but the one rejects the other; and if they who are in evil speak truths they say them from the mouth; and not from the heart. And so evil and truth are very far apart. (AC n. 4663)