The science of good deeds
Why exactly do we feel great helping other people? Is it the love they project towards us? Although we still feel pleasure when the deed is secret and no one knows it’s us that performed it. And how does altruism affect our health and our longevity? What other factors influence us to do good deeds? Why do we do good deeds in the first place?
According to this great article, “The Science of Good Deeds”, on WebMD.com, engaging in good deeds reduces our stress levels, which can help us live longer, healthier lives. During stress the “fight or flight” response kicks in and hormones are released causing increases in our heart and breathing rates. If this continues for an extended period of time our immune and cardiovascular systems are affected negatively. The “Helper’s high” of doing good deeds gain dominance over the stress, helping you feel better and live longer. The article references several studies, including one study that reports a 44% reduction in early death by those who volunteer a lot.
And what is happening in our heads during the “helper’s high”? Scientists have found specific areas in the brain that are very active during empathic and compassionate emotions – the “care-and-connection part of the brain”. A profound sense of joy comes from helping others. “It doesn’t come from any dry action — where the act is out of duty in the narrowest sense, like writing a check for a good cause. It comes from working to cultivate a generous quality — from interacting with people.” -Stephen G. Post, PhD, a professor of bioethics at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine. (This shows my point from a few days ago about how being on the front lines gives more emotion than giving money from arm’s length.) Brain chemicals are also changing during your good-deed doing. High levels of oxytocin, the “bonding” hormone known for preparing mothers for motherhood, were found in very generous people.
Human evolution has created a want to do good deeds and help our community. Because we are social mammals, we benefit from social support – our social bonds help us survive and thrive. Furthermore, a community of benevolent people could create a chain reaction. A study funded by the National Science Foundation and the Economic and Social Research Council (as reported on livescience.com), suggests having those around us perform good deeds both increases good feelings within ourselves, but also influences us to do good deeds ourselves. Even watching a program on television or a film could trigger these emotions and influence our level of altruism. Our environment and genetics could also play a part in how altruistic we are.
One other factor that could influence good deeds: smell. According to ScientificAmerican.com and based on research published in the journal Psychological Science, a clean smelling room promotes good-deed doing behaviour.
To sum it up: good deeds reduce your stress to make you live longer; they create positive chemicals and reactions in your brain to create intense joy (mostly through interaction and not arm’s length good deeds); we have evolved to want to help out our community; the more you do good deeds, the more those around you will, and vice versa; and keep your house and workplace clean smelling if you need motivation to get out there and be altruistic. Sounds like we all better do more volunteer work and help out our fellow humans for our own mental, physical and societal health.