Nice People May Finish Last, But…

There are a series of commercials that have caught my attention lately and I agree with them quite a bit.

They are the advertisements from People for Good. I’m sure many of you have seen these commercials on TV, but if not they are embedded at the bottom of this post.

They (People for Good) are an organization intended to make the world a better place. They are not asking for monetary donations; all they are asking for is that everyone spend a small amount of time to do a good deed for someone else.

They also did a sociology experiment to show that doing good deeds actually give you a natural high that lasts for weeks and months. They asked 5 Canadians to do one good deed for 7 days, and have them post a vlog on their experience and how they feel each day. The vlogs are published on People for Good’s Youtube Channel, and as well as their website.

Their ads all end with 1 statement:
“If good deeds are more common they wouldn’t stand out so much”

Good deeds are definitely not common enough in our society.

Yes, we have all heard, and surely been in plenty of cases where, “Nice people finish last”. I have been in plenty of situations where my good deeds are not appreciated, or even worse had them backlash at me. Like this one time I held open a door for this elderly lady, and she yelled at me for doing so (I never found out why).

I have to admit it, events like this does discourage me from doing further good deeds. I feel a bit ashamed even as I type that last sentence. But I would like to think I’m not the only one that gets discouraged from these backlashes to do further good deeds. I still try to be nice and considerate for other people (eventually after these backlashes). Even as recently as earlier today (well the day I am writing this post), I did something I think was “considerate” (I wouldn’t be a fair judge of that, would I?) that I have a bad premonition it will backlash at me in the near future (as always with deeds of this type).

But…

Good deeds not only gives you a high, usually termed “Helper’s High”, even after the deeds are over. But doing good deeds actually reduces stress and it even has health benefits [1]. In fact, studies summarized in [1] have found that offering help has a more significant association with one’s mental health than receiving help. Moreover, several studies have found that volunteering decreases the mortality rate in elders and HIV patients; they have claimed a similar effect for youths but the effect has been more difficult to document [1].

The physiological causes of these effects are still under study, but a few notable observations have been reported. One study reviewed in [2] has found through MRI scans that the mesolimbic pathway of the brain activates when subjects are making a monetary donation [2]. The mesolimbic pathway is the reward center of the brain that when activated gives us a dopamine mediated euphoria [2].

What is a dopamine mediated euphoria, you ask? well this pathway also activates to give us pleasure while eating or during sex. Moreover, another study reviewed in [2] has argued that helping behaviours involves a brain-emotion-immune nexus and complex hormones, such as oxytocin and vasopressin. Interestingly, oxytocin is a hormone that is known to increase during sex and peak at orgasm for both males and females [3].

That’s right, there are similarities between the euphoria felt during sex and orgasm, and that resulting from helping people (i.e. helper’s high).

Oxytocin also has potent anti-stress effects such as decreasing blood pressure [3]. Indeed, another study reviewed in [2] found that elders who volunteered to massage infants at a nursery had lowered level of stress hormones.

Apparently, even thinking about helping people also has physiological effects. Subjects tend to have a higher level of protective antibody salivary immunogoblin A when watching a documentary of Mother Teresa’s work. The immunogoblin is believe to boost our immune system [2]. Can you imagine then the effect when we’re actually helping people?

The only caveat to this notion of doing good is good for your health is if you are so involved in volunteering and good deeds that you overexert yourself physically and mentally [1,2].

In fact, we’re doing more than helping others. A study [4] has shown that watching another person do good deeds give us a feeling of “elevation”, that it motivates our desire to help others as well. So by doing good deeds, we will also be motivating observers to do good deeds as well. This would be a very good step toward a better society in which we shift more towards a “we” centric society and shift away from a “me” centric society.

Lastly, remember that good deeds are a two way street. We should try to do good deeds for others. At the same time, a simple “Thank you” goes a long way when someone else does a good deed.

In short…

Studies (see [1,2]) have found that doing good deeds gives you a feeling of euphoria, reduces stress, have both mental and physiological health benefit, and may even let you live longer.

So nice people may finish last now, but nice people are the ones who will be happier, have less stressful and more fulfilling lives, have better health, live longer, and have the last laugh in the end.

References

[1] Post, S.G. (2005). Altruism, Happiness, and Health: It’s Good to Be Good, Int. J. of Behav. Med., Vol. 12 (2), pp. 66-77.

[2] Post, S.G. (2009). It’s Good to be Good: Science Says Its So, Health Progress,

[3] Gimpl, G. and Fahrenholz, F., (2001). The Oxytocin Receptor System: Structure, Function, and Regulation, Psych. Reviews, vol. 81(2), pp. 629-693.

[4]Schnall, S., Roper, J., and Fessler, D.M.T. (2010). Elevation Leads to Altruistic Behaviour, Psych. Sci., Vol. 21, pp. 315-320

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