Makeovers are the rage. Reviewing the "before and after" photos of someone's physical alterations fascinate us. TV and Internet outlets have exploited our insecurities over self-image by cranking out shows and segments that highlight superficial changes the viewer might accept as bona fide change.
Fresh hair style, makeup and wardrobe can provide a reboot needed to feel better and put a smile on your face. But do these changes contribute to a better you, to a longer and healthier life in both mind and body? That's questionable.
What is it that creates lasting change in us and provides that spark allowing for authentic transformation? Consider love, in this case a deep and brotherly or sisterly, Godly love. That has been the focus of a four-year initiative called the Flame of Love Project.
More than 80 percent of Americans directly feel God's love, according to a survey conducted by the organization funded by the John Templeton Foundation. The findings also report a similar number "feel that God's love increases their compassion for others."
Three of the project's co-directors, Matthew T. Lee and Margaret M. Poloma from the University of Akron and Stephen Post, from the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, collaborated on a book, "The Heart of Religion: Spiritual Empowerment, Benevolence and the Experience of God's Love," published by Oxford University Press.
Detailed interviews in the book "shed new light on how Americans wake up to the reality of divine love and how that transformative experience expresses itself in concrete acts of benevolence."
We innately sense that altruism is good for the other guy, but there are benefits for the giver too; healthy paybacks. Volunteerism is good medicine.
That's according to UnitedHealthcare, a division of UnitedHealth Group, the largest single health carrier in the United States. On their "do good. live well" website, they have amassed health info from a variety of sources that should not be ignored.
Through the research compiled they conclude that volunteering:
Improves physical well-being: The social activities associated with volunteering have been shown to decrease heart rate and blood pressure, improve the immune system and safeguard from the effects of stress.
Raises self-confidence and self-esteem: Volunteering has a positive influence on social psychological factors. Confidence, self-assurance, and worth are heightened when participating in the act of helping others.
Encourages friendships that buffer against stress and illness: New opportunities and a fresh start come from activities like volunteering where you meet new people and get to know them. These connections can help guard against despair and hopelessness and their associated illnesses such as chronic pain and eating disorders.
Volunteering may help you live longer: Life expectancy has been shown in studies to increase through volunteer involvement. Quality of life is improved too.
Affection, forgiveness, volunteerism and other hallmarks of love have lasting impact. It was Jesus who long ago admonished us to, "Love others as well as you love yourself." And this counsel is found in some form in many other sacred teachings.
Brotherly love delivers a real makeover with healthy benefits. As Mary Baker Eddy once put it, "Love never loses sight of loveliness."
(Salt is a writer and blogger covering health, spirituality and thought. He is a Christian Science practitioner.)