Or is it the secret to health, happiness, longevity and ultimate peace on earth? I ask because Bio-gerontologists are doing a song and dance about it on a molecular and cellular level. Helping others with loving kindness with no expectation of any reward helps the recipient but it’s effect on the giving agent is far far greater. The warm glow, the feeling of satisfaction that the giver gets stays on long after the event and continues replicate that original good feeling. What’s more, this percolates into the body’s cells and enhances our physical health from the inside. The science is all out there. My purpose here is to get the message across.
I felt the need to write this post because for the past few decades decent people have been trying to…striving for that little something else, something extra in their lives. After you have enough clothes in your wardrobe and enough food in your stomach what else is there? Is it happiness? Is it health and longevity? Is it life satisfaction? What? As my friend Barrie once said, the only meaningful question that remains is “what?” But there they are, all decent folk, jogging for it, eating five fruits a day for it, not eating two days a week for it, seeking out rural environment for it, sweating out in the gym for it and yet, what is it all for? Health say some, to stay fit say others. Most people I think agree there is no one easy fix to get at this elusive package we call HEALTH, HAPPINESS, LONGEVITY AND LIFE SATISFACTION. Indeed some may dispute my phrasing here. They may just wish to win that great short cut to heaven, the lottery.
There is however a thought that all our efforts at body or organ enhancement is mere technological tweaking, that this may give us a long and healthy life but without that sweet cherry on top, the life happiness or as some call it, morality. Some animals live long and healthy lives; tortoises come to mind. I would rather that we as humans live a life of richness, compassion and love; a spiritual life that sets us apart from animals. This is why scientists find altruistic behaviour a very practical way to enhance our life satisfaction. We cannot all be spiritual beings turning to yoga or meditation or to devotional discipline. But we can all help our aged, our disabled or our children; we can help those more disadvantaged than us. And we do this all day, every day in some cases. The research has concentrated on how we perform our duties. The conclusion is that if the act of caring for others do not overwhelm us and if we do our altruistic acts with kindness and compassion we accrue to ourselves an enhanced social integration, a distraction from our own problems, a greater meaning to our lives, increased perception of self-efficiency and competence, improved mood, and a more physically and mentally active lifestyle.
What in the first place brought me to address this problem is that recently there have been a lot of articles in the press about carer stress. Caring for sick children or parents with declining mental and physical ability is one of the leading causes of stress related illness. The trick is not to be overwhelmed by your duties. In a lot of cases this is difficult. I know of what I speak, as they say, having been a single parent and having cared for adults in declining health. At times the stress threatens to overwhelm the carer. I coped by having plenty of social distractions and hobbies like photography, reading, writing blogs and having brief breaks away.
A lot of research has been done over the last thirty years or so on the merits of altruistic compassionate helping of others. This can be voluntary work but I qualify that. This is my personal feeling. “Voluntary work” as we used to know it, has been taken over by the accountants and insurers and defined and codified beyond all recognition. Voluntary workers have now been drafted into the regiments and given a uniform. So I shall call it altruistic acts of kindness. Research shows that people who perform such acts of kindness lead a better quality of life, are physically healthier and live longer. To quote one of the research articles here : “helping others is associated with higher levels of mental health above and beyond the benefits of receiving help…”
So folks, remember, if you are carers or volunteer workers, as long as your duties do not overwhelm you, you are reaping a great deal of benefit for yourself. With this thought in mind perform your duties with loving compassion and see what a difference it makes!
The above picture is apt, I think for this post on loving compassion. The photo is of my nephew having a nap with his nephew.