December 21, 2003


The Gift of Life: Study Says Giving Makes You Happier, Healthier (David Stonehouse, Ottawa Citizen, 21/12/03)

The old adage that it is better to give than to receive is more than just biblical wisdom or a mother's chasten to her child -- science is proving it to be the key to a healthier, happier, even longer life.

A flurry of research is showing that giving has a whole range of health benefits, including fewer aches and pains, better mental health, lower stress levels and improved protection against illness.

And if one study has it right, the best gift you can give is yourself. Benevolence, it found, can be better than not smoking or exercising four times a week if it is long life you seek.

Stephen Post, an American bioethicist examining the growing body of evidence linking altruism to improved health, says people have always understood that giving has benefits. But no one has quite figured out exactly why that is...

Scientists can be so cute sometimes. Not only does the pomposity of “proving” what the reverent have always known elude them, they don’t get it even when they get it. If Americans all spent their lives buying gifts and doing charitable works, they probably wouldn’t be healthier or live any longer if improving personal health was the only goal.

Giving to others is a symbolic expression of an outward-looking, self-abnegating life, one that renounces self and commits to others. It is through trying to see our needs and even our lives as unimportant that we may--no guarantees– be given the richest, longest lives of all. For most people, this is achieved through family. To care for those who care for you is true bliss. For others, it is attained through vocations of service like religious orders, the military and teaching. But it will never be achieved by those who see their sacrifices and good deeds as a kind of exercise regime, the main purpose of which is to earn them health payoffs and an extended life.

Posted by Peter Burnet at December 21, 2003 4:56 PM

Mr. Burnet;

That's also an error on the scientific level, mistaking correlation for causation. I suspect,though, that it's the reporter and not the scientists who made that mistake.

Posted by: Annoying Old Guy at December 22, 2003 11:32 AM


Perhaps. As it is from my hometown paper, I'll keep an eye open for the disclaimer letters to the editor from the horrified and embarassed scientists. :-)

Posted by: at December 22, 2003 4:08 PM

I suspect that what makes people happy is having a group of friends and relatives close enough to be worth exchanging gifts with.

For an example of a generous but very unhappy Christian giver, check out today.

Posted by: Harry Eagar at December 23, 2003 4:59 PM