by Don Ingwerson
Years ago, while leading students on a nine-week bicycle trip through Europe, my wife and I happened to stay one night in Copenhagen, Denmark. That evening we had an amazing opportunity to see unselfish giving at its best. An outpouring of friendship, kindness, and goodwill was expressed to us by a filling station attendant who closed up shop to drive us (with bikes) to church and by church attendees welcomingly inviting us for dessert, then offering to supply us with lunch the next day when they heard that cornflakes and sour cream were on our menu.
But this story isn’t only about travel and good will. It’s also about what type of behavior is tied to a long and healthy life. Here was a group of people who went far beyond casual assistance to others to express real caring for us – even though their actions didn’t necessarily give them anything in return.
This experience gave us an unforgettable sense of appreciation and gratitude. And for those in Copenhagen? I could tell that it brought happiness, because they were all grinning and departed with a sense of joy. They may not have known it, but that type of loving, considerate action promotes a long and healthy life.
Ed Diener and Micaela Chan in the article, “Happy People Live Longer: Subjective Well-Being Contributes to Health and Longevity,” reviewed the correlation between subjective well-being, health, and longevity by analyzing many studies that took up this topic. What they found was that “…there are now a number of converging lines of evidence based on diverse methodologies supporting the conclusion that SWB [subjective well-being] influences health and longevity.”
On the opposite side of the spectrum, there also appears to be a correlation between negativity and poor well-being. Danielle Ofri, M.D. points out in a New York Times blog that lack of respect in the attitude of health professionals creates an unhealthy hospital environment. She questions the tolerance of a disrespectful culture in her profession when such a disposition is causing the same harm as medication errors and surgical mistakes. Evaluating our attitudes can be helpful when considering healthy and harmony. Studies increasingly conclude that sustained mental negativity is the enemy of well-being.
Maybe it comes down to that unique human quality of humility. The Bible records Jesus as intimating that there would be a reward for loving even our enemies: “But love ye your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again; and your reward shall be great…” Alongside the benefits of a peaceful life, could we also gain a rewarding life of health and happiness?
The unprecedented kindness expressed by the Danish people still feels fresh in mind and continues to promote a feeling of goodwill toward my fellow man. What a fabulous example of what blesses one blesses all!