The Gift of Giving

>> Friday, December 4, 2009

As frequently happens, I got an idea for a blog from reading an article on the New York Times. In this case, it's a story documenting the benefits of one woman diagnosed with multiple sclerosis who received a very interesting prescription: give something every day for a month.

Say what?

How does that help? Well, it did. In fact, it helped her physical symptoms so much she kept it up and does it all the time now.

She wasn't doing anything like Seven Pounds, giving out houses or her life's savings. Instead, it was small things, the kind of things we all could do without really impacting our own standard of living. It might be a thoughtful gift or a visit to a relative in a nursing home. It might be watching a friend's kid for an evening out or buying the lunch for the next person in line at a drive-through window. Maybe you give some time to a charity or volunteer at your kids' school.

Now, I've been an advocate of "pay it forward" for some time. I enjoy taking the time to help someone, answer a question, do something for someone else. I know the rewards emotionally of thinking beyond oneself, of doing something nice for someone without expecting anything in return. What I hadn't considered was the possibility that doing so might actually have physical impacts on my own health.

The article noted studies that had found just that, a link between doing for others and reaping physical benefits. Well, well. According to the article (and I urge you to do your own research), there are a number of studies out there that argue selfishness has physical consequences and selflessness has physical benefits.

What if we all took this philosophy to heart, even if we were healthy? How much misery could we eliminate by refusing to wallow in self-pity (and, by a strange coincidence, receiving some random acts of kindness)? How much happier and healthier would we be if we stopped focusing resentment of others who might have something we don't have and instead focused on what we could do to make others' lives better?

If we could convince people to take up thoughtfulness and consideration for selfish reasons, perhaps we could do our whole health care industry a boost as well as alleviating some of the ugliness we all seem to take for granted these days.

And, even if it doesn't, hey, there are few things more pleasurable than doing something good just cause you can. So enjoy.


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