Positive Psychology takes you through the countryside of pleasure and gratification, up into the high country of strength and virtue, and finally to the peaks of lasting fulfillment: meaning and purpose.
(Martin Seligman, pioneer of Positive Psychology)
The sociopathic science promoted by people like Richard Dawkins and his ilk claims that only murderous, selfish aggression is good for survival. If you weaken and give an inch to others, they will grab the advantage and beat you down.
Best to kill them first, before they kill you.
There’s tons of hokey science that is supposed to prove this hypothesis—and it is just a hypothesis, meaning unproven opinion, not real science.
Ultra-selfishness even has a name: social Darwinism, after Charles Darwin and his theory described as “survival of the fittest” (again, just a theory, not an established fact). Well, the Nazis tried that and it didn’t work for them. It didn’t work for anyone else either, did it?
Nazism besmirched the planet and the deep irredeemable stain is still present in our social fabric. It may never fully go away.
Now it’s surfaced again in the antics of Google, Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg: We kill you. You can’t do anything to us. There is no recourse. We win… Haha!
But hold on a minute.
These people are calculating on the fact that they will be able to control and restrain a population of obedient slaves. That once at the top of the social pile, they will stay there.
But they are ignorant of certain principles of biology and elementary medicine: that when an organism is diseased or sick (as they unquestionably are) it becomes vulnerable to a cull by nature.
Mother Nature, we have seen over and over, is no observer of social status. Kings, queens and captains of industry can die just as rapidly in a pandemic as the common man. You can run but you can’t hide is the popular slogan. Well, it’s true in terms of microbes.
You may control the internet but that does not give you god-like powers over biology. Joseph Stalin was very sick and finally had a massive stroke. Alexander the Great died of typhoid fever complicated by bowel perforation at the young age of 32. Being the greatest military leader who ever lived did not save him from microbes! The 19th century Muslim leader, the Mahdi, died of syphilis. Hitler fell apart with Parkinsonism, probable syphilis, borderline personality disorder and amphetamine addiction.
You can Google who died of what. The impression you’ll end up with is that being great and powerful has little or nothing to do with happiness, health or survival!
Thing is, it turns out that being “good” has very positive survival benefits, whereas being “bad” has none. Generosity has healthful physiology. I mean it. And there’s science!
It seems that while children, we’re biologically wired to be kind and we can further develop this trait with practice and repetition. Sadly, our feelings about this seem to decline as we get older. It’s hard to retain a basic gentleness in a world that’s so revved and competitive as ours.
What is very clear is that getting stuff does not make us happy, as we hope and expect. Getting rich does NOT make us happier. It’s surprising but the only PROVEN path to happiness is to serve; to do things for others.1
First there’s the serotonin effect: you’ve probably noticed that being kind makes US feel warm and fuzzy and nice. Woohoo! We also get endorphins (home-grown, on-board morphine like substances) which excite the pleasure centers of our brain. In fact there is a term for this: a helper’s high!
You can keep your meditation classes, gym sessions, prescription medications, herbs and natural remedies, which all cost money. Being nice to others is easy, cheap (often free) and brings on relaxed feelings.
An interesting study on happiness from the University of British Columbia, Canada, showed that, whereas social anxiety is associated with low moods, participants who engaged in kind acts displayed significant increases in feel-good and wellbeing over the four weeks of the study.
It needn’t be a grand gesture or something huge; just throwing around a few extra smiles, letting someone park in that coveted spot, or buying someone coffee when it isn’t your turn can make a big difference.
Remember Anne Herbert’s “Random Acts of Kindness and Senseless Beauty” that she gave to the world in 1982. We all felt better for it. Did you join in? If not, it’s never too late!
Anne Herbert (1952 – 2015)
The Oxytocin Connection
Being kind feels good, for sure. That warm-hearted feeling may actually be ascribed to your heart. We now know that a lot of thoughts and emotions are wrapped up in the heart. The ancients were right: the heart is the seat of many feelings, not just the brain.
But there is physiology too. Friendship and bonding are also about oxytocin, the so-called “love hormone”. When a woman gives birth, her body is flooded with this wonderful substance. She bonds with her baby (and her womb shrinks and starts to repair, ready for next time).
Oxytocin, you may not know, releases nitric oxide and that’s very cardioprotective. It lowers blood pressure. It’s also why men take Viagra: it increases nitric oxide, which leads to an erection and a different kind of “love interest”. Haha!
Maybe there is something to the expression “kind-hearted” or even “big hearted”?
Inflammation is something we can all do without. Apart from an acute, short-term protective effect, inflammation—chronic inflammation in other words—it very damaging. Inflammation is associated with all sorts of health problems such as diabetes, cancer, chronic pain, obesity, and migraines. It ages us.
Interesting then that serving others reduces inflammation. According to a study of adults aged 57-85, published in the journal Gerontology, “volunteering manifested the strongest association with lower levels of inflammation.”2
Oxytocin also reduces inflammation, and even little acts of kindness can trigger oxytocin’s release.
In a culture given to greed and acquiring “stuff”, at any cost to our self-esteem and the love of others, it is vital we turn the tide by raising our children to care, be kind and practice generosity.
A recent study explored how different factors contribute to young children’s development of generosity. Researcher Jonas Miller and his colleagues studied children, first when they were four years old and again when they were six.3
At both times, children played different activities to earn tokens that they could later exchange for a prize. Once the children earned all their tokens, the researchers explained to the children that they could donate some, none, or all of their tokens (if they wanted) to other children who were sick and in the hospital or having a hard time.
Using an electrocardiogram, researchers measured a version of heart rate variability (HRV) and the results were quite compelling.
On average, children donated 25% of their tokens when they were four years old and 20% of their tokens when they were six years old. Although individual children varied quite a bit in how generous they were, the researchers found that each child’s generosity tended to be somewhat stable from preschool to kindergarten. In other words, children who were more generous at four years old tended to also be more generous when they were six years old.
Being generous correlated well with an increase in HRV (which is the healthy direction).
But there’s more! The children’s mothers were asked to complete a questionnaire, providing insight into their generosity and compassion. Generally speaking, those with more compassionate mothers were more generous than the other kids. It does seem that setting a good example was helpful towards kids developing a compassionate instinct (prosociality, it’s called).
Now the kids in this study were mostly white and from middle- to upper-middle-income families, it must be said. But I don’t see anything that leads to the conclusion that generosity has racial or ethnic borders.
Be kind to one another!
To your good health,
Prof. Keith Scott-Mumby
The Official Alternative Doctor
- The Gerontologist, Volume 54, Issue 5, October 2014, Pages 830–839
- Psychological Science. Vol. 26, No. 7 (JULY 2015), pp. 1038-1045