Guest column/You can do good, feel healthy

How far would you go to be a good neighbor?

A regular Joe was driving home to be with his family after a hard day. He came upon a beat-up, broken-down car along the side of the road. This average guy, whose name was actually Jim, didn’t hesitate to stop and see what help he could give to the stranger standing nearby.

The year was 1929. Life was difficult, and it would not get better for a long while. It was a desperate time when daily life for many revolved around one thing: looking for a way to stay alive.

It was also a time, interesting enough, when generosity abounded.

Love and its qualities of generosity, kindness and compassion have long marked the best of human nature. The Bible account of the Good Samaritan highlights that impulsion to give generously to help pull a stranger through difficult times.

Scientific investigation on the effects of love in our lives has uncovered some interesting findings. The Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, founded at Case Western Reserve University, has been looking into the subject for over a decade. Part of its mission statement includes answering the question: Does the sincere love of neighbor contribute to the happiness and health of both those who give it and those who receive it?

Stephen Post, founder of the institute shares these statistics from the 2010 Do Good Live Well Survey, released by United Healthcare and VolunteerMatch:

68 percent of those who volunteered in the last year reported volunteering made them feel physically healthier.

89 percent reported “volunteering has improved my sense of well-being.”

92 percent agreed that volunteering enriched their sense of purpose in life.

Jim didn’t know about this data when he volunteered to help the stranger get his car going. Perhaps it was out of a sense of duty and privilege, a Godly, unconditional love. The men were of different race and came from different cultures, but Jim only saw a neighbor in need. It turns out the man had a wife and several children with him in the car. They were homeless and looking for work when the car would go no further.

It would be enough that Jim got the car running that day, but he didn’t stop there. Jim had an abandoned house on his property that he offered the family to use as long as they needed. Love knows no bounds.

The place was fairly dilapidated, so Jim fixed it up while the family moved in. The home had no heat, so Jim went and got an old Coleman stove he had stored away. The family had no food, so Jim’s wife brought them what she had from her own pantry. That’s being a Good Samaritan.

The stranger had no job, so Jim helped him find one. The family had no friends, so Jim’s family befriended them. That’s unlimited love.

It has been said the hole through which you give is the hole through which you get. Yet, getting is not the goal of unconditional love. Post shares this advice: “We should never count on reciprocity because this is sure to be frustrating and ultimately small-minded. Better to take joy when those upon whom our love is bestowed do not ‘pay it back’ to us, but rather ‘pay it forward’ to others as they move through life remembering our good example.”

The stranger and his family stayed in the house for several months before finding a permanent job in another town. They gave back to Jim and his family all they had, their love and respect.

Jim’s philosophy in life was “giving is living.” If this encounter with a stranger is any indication, Jim knew how to live. As Henry David Thoreau so succinctly put it, “Goodness is the only investment that never fails.”

(Salt is a writer and blogger covering health, spirituality and thought. He is a Christian Science practitioner.)