Secret of Life

Secret of Life

Pentecost 196


“The root of joy, as of duty, is to put all one’s powers towards some great end.”  Oliver Wendell Holmes, Jr. has given us the secret to a great life.  Despite your religious leanings, whatever traditions you follow, or your ethnic upbringing, we all want a life with joy and success.  Living a life that reaps goodness for others will give you that very thing.  Our focus for the past one hundred and ninety-five days has been making the “ordinary time” of Pentecost into something more, something extraordinary.  To do this, we reviewed ways to give to others, to give back, to give to ourselves.  In short, we have been talking about how to practice altruism.


During this series of Pentecost 2016, we have discussed over two hundred-plus ways to be altruistic, to do good for another.  I have given you websites that allowed you to give to charitable organizations simply by clicking with your mouse.  We have shared ways to practice benevolence as well as things to contribute.  We’ve shared organizations and companies that use their earnings to give to others in times of need and we’ve exchanged tips for better personal living.  We have also illustrated how doing positive things for others also helps us and the importance of remembering to be kind to ourselves.  Albert Einstein believed “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile.”  Considered a man of science and not of spirituality or religion, it is interesting the importance he placed on altruism.


The purpose of this blog is to invite thoughts into our head, to expand our thinking and, hopefully, improve our living.  Doing that also means improving our world and creating better and greater opportunities for us and others.  Your comments and suggestions for topics have certainly done that for me and this demonstrates the way in which altruism works:  positive action begets more positive action.


Altruism is the core of most of the world’s religions.  The selfless concern for others is a traditional value of most of the world’s civilizations, regardless of the era or location.  “The happiest people I know are people who don’t even think about being happy. They just think about being good neighbors, good people. And then happiness sort of sneaks in the back window while they are busy doing good.”  Rabbi Harold Kushner explains how we often are subconsciously being altruistic without realizing it.


Dr. Sherrie Bourg Carter reported for Psychology Today in 2014 that altruism is not a one-way street.  It can be of benefit to the giver as well as to the recipient.  She reported scientific data that recognizes that doing something positive for another also does good for the person doing the giving in the release of endorphins.  “The positive energy that you feel from doing a good deed can act on your body in much the same way that exercise does, releasing endorphins that make you feel good naturally.” 


Dr. Carter also took note of how helping others allows us to be grateful for our own lives.  No one has everything and it can easily seem tempting to envy others.  Helping those less fortunate can serve to remind us of the good things in our own lives.  Such acts of goodness also help us keep our lives in focus.  Dr. Carter advises such actions can distract “you from your own problems – focusing on someone else can actually pull you away from your own self-preoccupation and your own problems. In fact, studies have found that when people with medical conditions (e.g., cancer, chronic pain) “counsel” other patients with those same conditions, the “counselors” often experience less depression, distress, and disability.”  Those that volunteer tend to live longer with a better physical well-being than non-volunteers.


This is the time of year when many are rereading “A Christmas Carol” by Charles Dickens.  His story of Ebenezer Scrooge delights many but it is the moral of the story that we should really give our attention.  DR. Stephen Post of Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine conducted over fifty studies regarding altruism and its affect.  In a paper published earlier this year, Post describes the biological underpinnings of stress — and how altruism can be the antidote.


In an article entitle “The Science of Good Deeds” the website WebMD discussed Dr. Post and his findings regarding the connection between altruism and personal health.  “This connection was discovered inadvertently in 1956, when a team of Cornell University researchers began following 427 married women with children. They assumed that the housewives with more children would be under greater stress and die earlier than women with few children.  Surprisingly, they found that numbers of children, education, class, and work status did not affect longevity,” writes Post. After following these women for 30 years, researchers found that 52% of those who did not volunteer had experienced a major illness — compared with 36% who did volunteer.


“Two large studies found that older adults who volunteered reaped benefits in their health and well-being. Those who volunteered were living longer than non-volunteers. Another large study found a 44% reduction in early death among those who volunteered a lot — a greater effect than exercising four times a week, Post reports.  In the 1990s, one famous study examined personal essays written by nuns in the 1930s. Researchers found that nuns who expressed the most positive emotions were living about 10 years longer than those who expressed the fewest such emotions.”


The secret to living and living well is really not a secret at all.  We have spent this entire season of Pentecost discussing it.  Joe Klock summarizes it for us:  “Success, happiness, peace of mind and fulfillment – the most priceless of human treasures – are available to all among us, without exception, who make things happen – who make ‘good’ things happen – in the world around them.”  Happy last day of Pentecost!



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