Living

Does ‘paying it forward’ really pay off?

The Golden Rule — that you should treat others as you’d wish to be treated — should be amended to include the footnote: ‘because it increases the amount of joy, happiness and goodness in the world and may in fact be the source of the same.’

Pay it forward, favour

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The Golden Rule — that you should treat others as you’d wish to be treated — should be amended to include the footnote: ‘because it increases the amount of joy, happiness and goodness in the world and may in fact be the source of the same.’  

A Guardian article on the work of American academic Paul Zak suggests as much anyway. Zak, the author of the book The Moral Molecule, suggests that there is a biological foundation for goodness among human beings and that it has a lot to do with the ‘feel-good’ hormone oxytocin.

Kindness has a potent effect on our internal reality — it stimulates the production of oxytocin, which in turn softens our disposition, making us kinder and gentler to others, which makes those people kinder and gentler, and so on and so on.  

Oxytocin’s effect on the human mind and body extends well beyond encouraging simple manners — it solidifies monogamous relationships, makes us more generous with our time and money, and binds us to both friends and family. Even being in the presence of an individual who is in the warm embrace of an oxytocin high can affect us positively.  

According to the article, in one experiment, Zak measured the hormonal composition of a wedding party and its guests and found that while the bride had the highest levels of oxytocin in her blood stream, her guests also enjoyed a feel-good burst simply by proximity. The more intimately involved the guest was emotionally in the proceedings, i.e. the mother of the bride or close relation, the greater their level of oxytocin.  

This phenomenon suggests that human beings are internally programmed to be decent to one another and that that inclination comes with a real reward — paying it forward pays off.  

How can you boost your oxytocin levels and therefore do your part in keeping civilization civil? Zak says to ramp up your daily hugging quotient (dogs count!) to a minimum of eight hugs a day; get a massage, and/or watch a heartwarming movie. You can even post a kind message on a friend’s Facebook page, as Zak found social media interaction can result in oxytocin spikes too.    

Have you done something nice for someone recently?