Doing Good, and Feeling Better

Philanthropy isn't just rewarding, it's also good for your health.

ByABC News
November 28, 2006, 7:16 PM

Aug. 20, 2007— -- How good would it feel if someone just gave you $1,000?

Last fall, Oprah Winfrey thrilled audience members with these words: "You will each go home with $1,000."

Then she said there was a catch: "You have to spend the money on someone other than your family."

Winfrey said she wanted them to experience how good it feels to give.

They still applauded, but the smiles looked a little forced.

Yet maybe she did her audience a favor, because even though the audience had to give the money away, it could get back even more than they gave.

Stephen Post explains why in his new book, "Why Good Things Happen to Good People."

He reveals that new science shows giving -- money or time -- not only feels just as good as getting, but can actually improve your health.

"Giving is as good for the giver as it is for the receiver. Science says it's so. We'll be happier, healthier, and even -- odds are -- live a little longer if we're generous," Post said.

"Public health isn't just about bugs and staying away from lead. It's about doing unto others, and at the right dose, science says it's very good for you," he said.

Arthur Brooks, author of the new book, "Who Really Cares: The Surprising Truth About Compassionate Conservatism," also knows a lot about the current research on charity.

Brooks said, "There's evidence that it helps people with their asthma, in cardiovascular disease, weight loss, insomnia. When people have a lot of happiness, they do a lot better in their health as well."

That was true for former heart patients at Duke University Medical Center.

They were asked to visit current heart patients -- no particular agenda, just to listen and lend support. By doing that, the volunteers had better health after their heart attacks.

A similar study at the University of Miami by Dr. Gail Ironson followed HIV patients who volunteered, like Katherine Marshall Scott, who talks to teenagers about avoiding infection, and Stephen Baker, who counsels fellow HIV survivors.