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It’s good to be good: 2011 fifth annual scientific report on health, happiness and helping others

Stephen G Post


This literature review presents an extensive set of scientific and medical studies regarding the benefits experienced by individuals who act sincerely for the benefit of others.  Happiness, health and even longevity are benefits that have been reported in more than fifty investigations using a variety of methodologies. This convergence includes studies on recovery from alcoholism, addiction, and depression; on coping with severe diagnoses and with dying; longevity in older adults and in youth followed over the course of their lifetimes; in neurology, endocrinology, and immunology; and on self-reported happiness as well as the “helper’s high” in relation to thresholds of volunteerism.  The conclusion of this review is that when we help others, we help ourselves, with the caveat that we need balance in our lives and should not be overwhelmed. The evidence for the benefits of giving is now extremely powerful, and suggests that healthcare professionals might wish to recommend such activities to patients. A number of studies covered also highlight that public health implications of encouraging prosocial and generous behaviors. In particular, the benefits of contributing to the lives of others are especially clear under conditions of stress or hardship, and constitute the essential component of post-traumatic growth.  A Darwinian model for these benefits is suggested, as well as a philosophical recognition of the convergence between science and spiritual-moral wisdom with respect to the benefits of doing “unto others”.

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