The Psychology of Doing Good (and the pathology of hostility)

In another excellent podcast from Shrink Rap Radio Dr David Van Nuys interviewed Dr Steven Post about the value of unselfish love. Just before you start cringing about a Californian “lurve-fest”, Dr Post researches the benefits and puts into practice the benefits of what Buddhists might call metta or loving-kindness.

His book about the value of loving kindness has the oddly self-interested title: Why Good Things Happen to Good People: The Exciting New Research That Proves The Link Between Doing Good and Living A Longer, Healthier, Happier Life.

While the interview is very interesting as a whole, one part caught my attention. Using data from psychology studies spanning 25 years, researchers compared people’s levels of hostility with their mortality rates in later life.

Those people who were in the top 25% of the hostility scores had a 20% death rate by the time they were 50, those in the bottom 25% had a 2-4% death rate by the time they were 50. Which is to say that their high levels of hostility sent them to the grave more quickly. The main cause of death was coronary heart disease but there was a similar relationship between hostility levels and other life shorting illness such as cancer.

Since I’m approaching 50 I feel I have a personal interest in this kind of research. It’s more evidence for the idea that negative emotions can seriously damage your health.

I can’t offer medical advice, but it might be worth cutting down on your consumption negative emotions with a view to giving them up entirely!

OK. Maybe not giving them up in this lifetime, but it’s worth working towards. After all, it’ll probably give you more lifetime to enjoy.

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