Why Good Things Happen to Good People

Written for Giving magazine, Vol. 20

By the Ecumenical Stewardship Center

 Why Good Things Happen to Good People:

How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving

By Stephen Post and Jill Neimark

 “Giving is good medicine,” say Stephen Post and Jill Neimark, authors of Why Good Things Happen to Good People: How to Live a Longer, Healthier, Happier Life by the Simple Act of Giving. While this exciting book is not specifically from a faith perspective, it reveals research results of physical, mental and emotional links between doing good and living longer, healthier, and happier lives.

Why Good Things Happen to Good People is packed with surprising findings from serious scientific studies that “demonstrate the power of unselfish love to enhance health,” recording positive benefits of a generous way of life. Key studies give stunning results. For example, after sifting out other factors, one study of almost 2,000 people over the age of 55 found that those who volunteered in two or more organizations had a 44 percent lower likelihood of dying within five years than those who did not volunteer. Volunteering was a stronger influence even than exercising four times a week, or attending religious services. Four studies of teenagers showed that generous behavior has a significant impact on their mental health, particularly for boys, reducing adolescent depression and the risk of suicide. Another study found that giving to others helps us forgive ourselves for our own mistakes, which leads to a greater sense of well-being.

“Generous behavior is closely associated with reduced risk of illness and mortality and lower rates of depression,” the authors state. “Even more remarkable, giving is linked to traits that undergird a successful life, such as social competence, empathy, and positive emotion. By learning to give, you become more effective at living itself.”

After twenty-five years of studying generous behavior, Bioethics and Family Medicine professor Stephen Post has identified ten ways of giving in the four domains of family, friends, community, and humanity. Using this matrix, psychologists at the University of Miami developed a “Love and Longevity Scale,” which is included in the book along with the related questions.

Why Good Things Happen to Good People devotes one chapter to each of the ten ways of giving – celebration; generativity; forgiveness; courage; humor; respect; compassion; loyalty; listening; and creativity. Each section explores that behavior or trait with daily examples, a list of ways it can improve our lives, and from three to ten specific strategies for strengthening that dimension in our living.

We may be used to hearing about the benefits of giving in a generalized way or in a spiritual or religious setting, but this book shows scientifically how giving improves the giver’s health and well-being. It also offers us particular ways to grow intentionally in any of these ten dimensions of giving in our personal lives, and as we influence family members or friends. It would be a marvelous study book for our congregations, as well.