Generosity

The time leading to the coming election has become tense and uncomfortable for many people. The pandemic, the Black Lives Matter protests, the protests of the Proud Boys and other armed groups, the high rates of unemployment, climate protests, and the divisiveness of the political campaigns combine to make our lives uneasy.

In addition, the U.S. is the most diverse nation on Earth. Our population comes from waves of immigration that have happened over a few hundred years.  My spouse and I enjoy hiking, and have been to all seven continents and scores of countries;  none are anywhere near as diverse as ours.  Diversity can be enriching.  But recalling a quote from the film, “The Accountant” … “Sooner or later, difference scares people.”

Our happiness, however, is up to … us.

And when we’re happiest, we’re more open to new ideas, new technology, and differences among people, because feelings of fear are far less.  Here’s a report about one of the biggest tangible effects of feeling happier:  longevity.  I’ll add comments afterwards.

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Generosity can make us live longer, new research shows. Now, that’s more important than ever

Ryan Prior

CNN Health

September 1, 2020

 

Giving money or resources to your children or aging parents is likely to increase their life span, according to a new paper published Monday in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science.

There is a linear relationship between the amount and frequency of wealth transfers and the lengths of individuals’ lives, the study results have shown. Lead study author Tobias Vogt, who is an assistant professor in the faculty of spatial sciences at the University of Groningen, said …

 

“At the beginning of life you are reliant

on others. It’s a good idea to help others

throughout the course of our lives.”

 

The researchers’ goal was to track data on how every individual in a given society consumes and saves.

Intergenerational wealth transfers can include money, but they can also include houses, benefits or time.

 

Wealth transfers are more common

where social cohesion is high

The researchers recognized that other factors — such as country’s gross domestic product (GDP) and income inequality — also affect a population’s life expectancy and adjusted their models to include those factors.

One likely reason, Vogt said, for the correlation between countries experiencing greater longevity in the presence of financial transfers was that those countries exhibited stronger social cohesion.

To back that up, he cited a 2010 meta-analysis performed by researchers at Brigham Young University — with an aggregate of 148 separate studies involving a total of more than 300,000 participants. It found that survival was 50% greater for those with stronger social relationships compared to those with lesser or no social bonds.

 

Sharing leads to long life

Western Europe and Japan ranked highest on data linking resource-sharing and lower mortality levels.

France and Japan, the nations with the lowest mortality risk, showed the highest average individual wealth transfers. These countries shared between 68% and 69% of their lifetime income, while reporting mortality rates about twice as low as China and Turkey, where people shared between 44% and 48% of their lifetime earnings, according to the study. The researchers reported …

 

“South American countries also rank

high in terms of generosity, as they

share more than 60% of an average

individual’s lifetime income.”

 

On the low side of the spectrum, countries in Sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia were those in which people were least able to share portions of their lifetime earnings and experienced shorter life spans.

 

This research complements findings

in the UN’s World Happiness Report

Generosity and life expectancy are among the six variables scientists look at when making the World Happiness Report, which is released annually by the Sustainable Development Solutions Network for the United Nations.

This year, even as the coronavirus pandemic swept Europe, Finland held on to its happiest country title for a third straight year.

John Helliwell, co-editor of the World Happiness Report and professor emeritus of economics at the University of British Columbia, said …

 

“Generous behavior is related to

trust and mutual regard and a sense

of being together. People who are

happier are subsequently healthier.”

 

Vogt and his team’s research fit in well with the body of science the UN and researchers around the world have been monitoring since 2012 as they have cultivated the happiness index, Helliwell said.

Societies with high mutual trust are more likely to be resilient, and that could be seen in how they have fared recently against the coronavirus, he explained.

Those nations successfully keeping the virus at bay, such as Norway and New Zealand, are places where people trust each other. Helliwell said …

 

“There’s an evolutionary story

being told by this (paper).”

 

Our collective endurance as a species isn’t about survival of the fittest individuals, but rather about survival of the most cooperative societies.

 

“To the extent generosity adds to longevity,

it’s about our resilience to disease, or to

earthquakes, or changes in climate. Leaders

must broaden our capacity to help one another.”

 

 These results have relevance to the pandemic.

In a year of pandemic, global GDP is expected to drop by 5.2%, according to a World Bank estimate in June.

That means we’re in for a lot of lost transfers of value, whether they be a scholarship fund not collecting its annual fundraising goal, a laid-off middle-aged couple struggling with ailing parents’ nursing home bills or governments collecting less in taxes during a time of high unemployment.

Although simply spending time with a wiser older relative might be one of the best ways to transfer value from one generation to another, measures such as those would be a subject for a future study, Vogt said. The researchers wrote in the paper…

 

“We suggest that this support reduces

mortality by meeting urgent material

needs, but also that sharing generosity

may reflect the strength of social connect-

edness, which itself benefits human health

and wellbeing and indirectly raises survival.”

 

As the economic engine grinds to a halt, we’re faced with the prospect of our resource crunch resonating in the lives of ourselves, our children and our parents for years to come.

But the social science says there are ways to navigate the dilemma.

 

“It’s important how countries

get out of these situations,”

 

Vogt said, noting how countries such as Spain and France have high life expectancy and have high social cohesion, characteristics that can help shield them against the worst effects of the pandemic.

One of the most valuable ways to transfer something important to a loved one is to cook and care and read to them, he said.

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Reflecting on all the stress and anger that’s out there, we might remember that we’re here to be happy, not angry. And the real question is:

 

Where do we, as individuals, find happiness?”

 

I asked D, the entity my spouse channels – as I regularly do where the topic seems to benefit from D’s perspective – for suggestions that my blog readers might find useful.

 

“For each individual, this question will be answered differently. It may change over time, but there are some basics from which to draw ideas.  To begin your thinking, here are some simple questions to ask yourself:

 

  • What individuals bring me joy?

 

  • What individuals allow me to be myself, warts and all?

 

  • What activities calm my soul?

 

  • What activities have me wanting to do more?

 

  • What activities have me feeling I’ve accomplished something purposeful?

 

  • Where do I feel myself wanting  to be generous with my time?

 

 

“It helps to actually write the answers to these questions. As you look over your answers, ask yourself, ‘Is this where I spend my energy?’ If ‘Yes,’ continue and do more.  If ‘No,’ what is getting in your way? And adjustments need to be made.”

In developing the Garden Atrium sustainable community, I’ve found that “Sustainability” has two primary categories:  first is living in harmony with Earth;  second is maximizing our quality-of-life experience. Most writing about sustainability focuses on the former aspects. This blog has useful ideas for the latter.

 

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