Evidence of the impact of altruism on health and longevity has never been more clear to me than last Friday, when my father donated 1,000 acres of his land around Little Long Pond to the Mount Desert Island Land and Garden Preserve. My family and I had kept his intended gift as a surprise from the public until this past weekend, when it was announced as an early celebration of his 100th birthday on June 12th.
Nearly 200 people came to witness the occasion, including two horses and a handful of dogs on leashes. After the presentations my father walked up to the podium and told how he has loved this island all his life, and is so glad to be sharing it with others through the future stewardship of the Preserve. He thanked everyone for coming to celebrate this moment. True to character, he thanked others for receiving his gifts. Such a generous-hearted person; no wonder he has lived to be 100.
Much research has been done on the health benefits of altruism, the selfless concern for the wellbeing of others. Below is a partial list from the Mental Health Foundation:
Psychological benefits of altruism are that it:
- Promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness.
- Creates a sense of belonging and reduces isolation.
- Helps keep things in perspective, and contributes to happiness and optimism.
Physical benefits are that altruism:
- Reduces stress.
- Helps rid of negative feelings, and
- Can improve longevity.
As quoted in the University of California, Berkeley Wellness website, “Altruism … is considered the bedrock virtue by nearly all religions and cultures. From an evolutionary perspective, we’re wired for helping others. Such conduct is also seen in many other animals, including chimpanzees and elephants; even bees take care of each other.”
If altruism is medicine, my dad’s gift of 1,000 acres spread across his 100 years averages 10 acres of land given for every year of his life! What a steady dose!
As I said in a toast to my dad last night, no wonder he has lived so long. Thank you Dad, for your beautiful example of generosity. May others seek to emulate you in whatever way, at whatever level, they can.
How do you give to others?
How does it make you feel?