How Doing Good Makes You Healthier

The other day my friend told me the most heartwarming story. She took her daughter out for breakfast, and when she asked for the bill, the waitress came back with a note:

Life is short. Enjoy your time together. This one’s on me.

The note wasn’t signed and when she looked around the diner, nobody seemed to even look twice at her.

Quite a story, right? Since she told it to me I’ve been thinking a lot about random acts of kindness. And I’ve been doing a bit of research. I’ve discovered something pretty shocking. While it’s no surprise that being on the receiving end of a random act of kindness feels good, it’s actually the GIVER who gains the most.

So much so that one study found that participating in these altruistic endeavors can actually decrease your risk of death!

A Movement is Born

One act of random kindness makes a difference. It makes you feel good and amazingly makes you healthier.

This “random acts of kindness” movement started back in September of 1993. A Bakersfield College professor was looking for an assignment to give students in his People Skills for Business and Industry class.

After hearing a radio announcer report yet another random act of senseless violence, the professor had an inspiration. What would happen, he thought, if he changed one word?

Suddenly, he had his assignment. Within two weeks, he told his students, commit one random act of senseless kindness in the community.

And they did. One woman took her 8-year-old daughter to visit patients at a local hospital. Another student, who, after hearing his mother worry how she was going to pay the electric bill, withdrew the money he’d saved all summer and paid the bill himself. Another student took a stray dog home, cleaned him up and found the owner.

A reporter covered the assignment for a local newspaper and soon the story was picked up by the Associated Press, and it sent its own reporter to the scene. Within three weeks the story dominated the news, and the college was flooded with phone calls. The school almost had to shut down because the switchboard was so jammed.

The Helper’s High

When people help others, it makes them feel good. We get what researchers call a “helpers high,” or a profound sense of well-being and optimism associated with helping.

And the impact goes further than just the emotional. A growing body of evidence is proving that it can help the physical as well.

Get this: The Corporation for National Service, using health and volunteering data from the U.S. Census Bureau and the Center for Disease Control, found that states with a high volunteer rate also had lower rates of heart disease.1

Another study, this one published in the Journal of Health Psychology, looked at over 2,000 adults. Researchers found that after adjusting for differences in socioeconomic status, prior health status, smoking, social support and physical activity, volunteerism decreased death rates by over 44 percent.

Pretty neat, huh?

It’s Good to be Good

Do good and feel good makes a healthier body.

Anger and negative emotions are bad for the body, so it makes sense that the opposite would hold true. One of the healthiest things you can do is to step back from self-preoccupation and self-worry. And there’s no easier way to do this than by focusing your attention on helping others.

This transformation seems to promote emotional and physical well-being and, odds are, will add years to your life.

So how can you jump on the giving bandwagon? Here are some random acts of kindness you can carry out:

  • Leave a bouquet of flowers on a neighbor’s doorstep.
  • Have your kids write a thank you card to drop off at your local police or fire station.
  • Shovel a neighbor’s driveway. (It’s good exercise!)
  • Put a lottery ticket underneath someone’s windshield wiper.
  • Leave a note for a coworker that reads, “Have a nice day!”
  • Open the phone book, pick a name, and send a “Be happy!” card anonymously.
  • Organize a charity day at work and encourage employees to bring nonperishable food items to donate.
  • Hold an umbrella for shoppers on the way to their cars on a rainy day.
  • Pay a compliment to a stranger on the street.
  • After you’re done reading a newspaper, offer it to someone else. It’s good for the environment as well.
  • Volunteer to read to children at a local hospital.
  • Stop by a nursing home, and ask the staff which resident hasn’t gotten a visit in awhile. Spend some time with him or her.
  • Roll a neighbor’s garbage cans up to his house after the trash has been picked up.
  • Give another driver your parking spot in a crowded lot.
  • Let someone go in front of you on line at the food store – even if she has more groceries than you.
  • Leave coupons you’re not using tucked under the product at the grocery store.

Do you have any ideas for random acts of kindness? Share them here!

Steve Sisskind, M.D.

Hi, I'm Dr. Steve Sisskind, Chief Medical Officer & Founder at RealDose Nutrition.

As a young physician, I struggled because my patients came to me with serious health issues, but I didn't have the right tools to help them. Medical school taught me how to put "band aids" on their symptoms with drugs and surgery, but not how to address the root causes of their problems.

Years later I discovered a better approach... based on the fundamental idea that the power of nutrition can transform your health and vitality. But there's a lot of confusion... What foods should I eat? Which supplements should I take? What does the science say?

I have dedicated my life to answering these questions... And I share this knowledge with you every day here at RealDose Nutrition.

I invite you to connect with me by joining my free private community. I've helped thousands of people and I know I can help you too!

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References:
1. Grimm R, Spring K, Dietz N. The Health Benefits of Volunteering: A Review of Recent Research. Washington, DC: Corporation for National and Community Service, Office of Research and Policy Development; 2007.

2. Oman D, Thoresen CE, McMahon K. Volunteerism and mortality among the community-dwelling elderly. J Health Psychol. 1999;4(3):301-316. PMID: 22021599.

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18 comments

  1. I’ve actually paid for the person’s groceries in line behind me while shopping in St. Louis, Mo. His eyes lit up like a Christmas tree. Was he surprised, yes and I even got invite for dinner. I declined as it was a random stop by me as I travel on to Chicago.

  2. Just smile at people in public. It changes everything in the course of a second. Also, encouraging people in anyway you can think of. Lastly, asking them how their day is going and extend a good wish to them.

  3. What a great and healthful idea of yours for everyone to. help others all they can every day. Remember the Golden Rule we learned long ago “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” I have lived this way for a long time and it works every time. Thank You!

  4. Wonderful ideas. We. all

  5. Great comments from very worthy people. The world needs more of them. Keep it up!!

  6. I do several of these every week.(taking neighbors garbage cans in, letting people skip me in line at the grocery store). One I do that is not listed—–every morning if my elderly neighbor’s newspaper is still in the driveway when I walk my dog—I take it and place it at the very edge of her garage door—and I tie the plastic if it is looking like rain—that way she only has to open the garage door to retrieve it)

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Tammy,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing! I hope your words inspire others to the same. I know I have been touched by them. Have a healthy day!

  7. whoops…I meant to say ‘letting me help my friends is like giving me a gift. But I think you know what I meant. 🙂

  8. I have often told my friends that letting them help me is like giving me a gift because it makes me feel good and allows me to give back for times that people have helped me. Helping others is such a blessing and just makes you feel so good. I think that finding ways to help someone begins with trying to put yourself in someone else’s shoes. Often times we can get caught up in our own lives and we get ‘tunnel vision’, we just want to do what we have to do and get home. By slowing down and being aware of others we can find the opportunities to be kind or do a little something to help someone else. The other day I walked up to the corner store. The snow has melted here in Vermont and the litter of winter is here and there. I just decided to pick up some things along my walk…from in front of the neighbors houses and the bank and even at the corner store parking lot I went to. As I as I went to cross the street a guy driving by who was stopped at the street light noticed what I had been doing and as the traffic began to move he blocked the traffic and allowed me to cross safely and he rolled down his window and said “thank you”. It made me feel so good to do something small for our planet and then to know that someone else noticed and appreciated it too and then gave me a safe passage. It was a small thing but it made my day. Just being more aware of our surroundings and looking for ways to help others is a blessing and I am so glad that you wrote this article which is drawing more attention to it. Thank you for the great info.!

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      Hi Amy,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing your story with us! I love hearing about these small acts of kindness as they do our world a lot of good. Thank you for being you and I hope it inspires others to the same. Even the small things count! Make it a healthy day!

  9. I leave money on a package of diapers in the store. Smile at someone that has a bad face. They may of just gotten bad news and need some cheer. Smiles are free and release feel good endorphins for us so we are rewarded too. I mail money to people I know need it in secret.

  10. I agree, absolutely. I’ve been a volunteer in a number of fields for 30 + years, it always make me feel good helping others.

  11. Everyone loves getting a compliment, and i LOVE GIVING THEM!! If I see someone in the street or a cafe dressed well, or wearing a bright colour, or coloured streaks in their hair, I tell them how good they look. They look surprised,then their faces light up and I get a big smile. It makes us both feel good, and costs nothing!!

    • Dr. Steve Sisskind

      HI Linda,

      Thank you for writing in and for sharing! A simple act can bring so much joy to a person’s day! Have a healthy day!

    • I love to do this too Linda! I especially like to give other women compliments…they always appreciate it. And I know what you mean about them looking surprised but the way I see it is that we are all sisters and lifting each other up helps us all. I just like to make people smile, especially when they are looking down. A simple compliment can go along way.

  12. Wonderful suggestions! Keep them coming!

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