If I’d been born at a different time I may have been a quilter, because I get such a satisfied feeling from discovering how diverse things can actually be linked together to form a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. In science I loved learning about things like the water cycle. I was thrilled to find in geology the pattern repeated, and there was a counterpart in the rock cycle. I love that there are things that are more momentous than mountains themselves, or conversely, that huge cycles are actually made up of parts smaller than grains of sand. And each of these different systems is also connected in some way to other systems- ecological systems on the Earth, inward in us and outward into the universe. As Richard Dawkins says, “I find the reality thrilling”.
So, when I started this blog, I had some idea that I was going to explore some of these systems in relation to wellness, including our own internal mind-body-emotion links and external self-world links. So far though, it seems I have centred nearly all my posts around food and fun. (Apparently I’m much shallower than I thought). Well, today I will do something about that, because I am going to talk a bit about the importance of doing good in the world.
I will start with a new challenge for myself (and for you too, if you choose to take it on). This is the challenge: find a (creative) way to do something to increase the good in the world every single day, in a way that is meaningful to you. I love the many social movements like “pay it forward” or “random acts of kindness”, but they do not necessarily connect with me on a deeper inner level. So, while I may remember to occasionally do these things, I likely would not count them in my challenge (though others might- different causes resonate differently for us all). My personal areas of passion include animals and nature, so those would be focus areas for me.
Although I am taking up this challenge because I truly do want to increase good and decrease suffering and bad, it turns out that doing good is not entirely altruistic in its results. As a matter of fact, when giving is meaningful, it can be as beneficial to the giver as to the recipient. And that gets back to how all of the systems in our world are interconnected, so that when you do good for others, you are increasing your own mental, emotional, and even physical health. Here are 3 reasons why this is true:1. Our brain contains mirror neurons (in fact, many animals have them). These neurons allow us to empathize and see the world from another’s point of view. Interestingly, this ability to empathize can also make our body react biochemically in an empathetic way. Recent studies (ie- Harvard University, The Mother Theresa Effect(1)) have shown that an act of kindness stimulates your body to increase production of seratonin- the “feel good” neurochemical. Other positive health effects from kindness may include greater calmness and relaxation, lower blood pressure, increased energy, reduced stomach acid, pain reduction, and improved immune system functioning (2). And here is the amazing part- because of mirror neurons this is true whether you are the giver, the receiver, or the observer of the act of kindness!
2. Tied in with the first point, doing something good for the world increases our self-efficacy, or our belief that we can have an effect on the world. People who believe they have little self-efficacy feel powerless and may give up on challenges (or avoid them altogether), while those with greater self-efficacy are more able to face challenges with anticipation rather than anxiety, and behave accordingly. “These effects are particularly apparent, and compelling, with regard to behaviors affecting health” (3)
3. Finally, doing good helps us emotionally/spiritually by increasing our feeling of connectedness with the world and with others. This is tied in with both our efficacy and our empathy- we feel powerful and we feel part of something bigger. For many people, this connects with a sense of meaningfulness in general. Here’s the thing- I don’t have much money or time (presently) to donate to my favourite causes, so I will donate the small amount I can, but this is where the creativity comes in. I can add small things daily and know that cumulatively I will have had some effect over time. In part two of this post, I will present some ideas of ways to help, even without extra time or money. I hope it will be an opportunity for you to join in, taking on the challenge, and perhaps also passing on some good creative ideas for others, too.
(1) McClelland, D. (1988). The effect of motivational arousal through films on salivary immunoglobulin. Psychology and Health, Vol. 2, pp. 31-52
(2) Luks, A., Payne, P. (2001). The Healing Power of Doing Good. Lincoln, NE: iUniverse.com
(3) Luszczynska, A., & Schwarzer, R. (2005). Social cognitive theory. In M. Conner & P. Norman (Eds.), Predicting health behaviour (2nd ed. rev., pp. 127–169). Buckingham, England: Open University Press