Doing good for the benefit of who?

By John D. Clague, Christian Science Committee on Publication for Oregon

I’m sure there are many examples of people selflessly helping others. What comes to mind for you? Perhaps someone who is well known, like Mother Teresa.

Or perhaps there is someone you personally know who is a selfless giver, not expecting anything in return.

I think immediately of incidents like:

Hundreds of boat owners and ferry pilots converging on the Manhattan shoreline to evacuate stranded New Yorkers after the World Trade Center towers collapsed.

People in my community working at food banks and soup kitchens for the homeless.

Victor Frankl helping fellow prisoners of war cope through simple acts of sharing and encouragement

These are people engaging in helping acts with no expectation of anything in return.

Where does this desire to help others come from? Not only is history full of people helping people, but the stories of different cultures are full of these examples as a way of conveying a virtue or a moral, like Jesus’ parable of the Good Samaritan. Why do we do it if there’s no expectation of reciprocal acts of kindness or money?

In examining my own impulses along this line I can’t find a clear answer. As a Christian, The Golden Rule could be a motivator out of obedience. And for those of other faith traditions, such as Hinduism, Buddhism, Taoism, Zoroastrianism, and Judaism there are similar guiding principles. But is this really what motivates adherents of any tradition to act for the benefit or others?

Perhaps we do this simply because that’s who we are. It’s part of the very fabric of our being to help others. From my perspective, it’s how God made us. Mankind is basically good at the very core. And perhaps that’s what impels us to help each other.

There’s a twist to this good samaritan attitude, however, that I hadn’t thought of before. It’s good for your health.

Stephen G. Post, PhD. has been researching this notion that helping others is actually beneficial to the helper. In his report It’s Good to be Good: 2011 Fifth Annual Scientific Report on Health, Happiness and Helping Others, Post makes these observations.

“My working hypothesis is that one of the healthiest things a person can do is to step back from self-preoccupation and self-worry, as well as from hostile and bitter emotions; there is no more obvious way of doing this than focusing attention on helping others.

“…we can no longer afford to believe that we will find happiness and health through self-obsession. Selfishness and greed are not a good way to care for the self, while compassion and doing “unto others” seem to be the successful strategy…

“There is solid evidence to support the perennial hypothesis that benevolent emotions, attitudes, and actions centered on the good of others contribute to the giver’s happiness, health, and even longevity. Although genuine benevolence must be chiefly motivated by concern for others, it has the side effect of nourishing the giver.”

He cites a number of case studies showing a link between better health, more happiness and helping others.

Thinking about this a little deeper, what if more of us worked harder to love and help out our fellow women and men? I mean really love them with compassion, forgiveness, and a longing for their well being that impels us to act when they need our help. Not only would we feel better, but we would live in healthier communities.

The implications are profound. I’ve often held to the axiom that I could never be harmed by doing for others. I certainly feel good about helping others. Now, I see it actually helps my health, too. How about you?


  1. Susan says

    I like this idea that health is improved by helping others. The corollary is also true – that you don’t have to accept the idea of harm when helping others. Mary Baker Eddy wrote, “Constant toil, deprivations, exposures, and all untoward conditions, if without sin, can be experienced without suffering. Whatever it is your duty to do, you can do without harm to yourself.” Thanks!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *