October 4, 2022

Be good for goodness’ sake

“Be good for goodness’ sake” is not only the secret of piling up presents from Santa Claus under the Christmas tree, but the secret of mental and physical health.

At least, that’s the message sent by Harvard researchers in a recent article in the journal Social Psychiatry and Psychiatric Epidemiology. They report that strengths of moral character (SMC) contribute to well-being:

First, the results suggest that persons who live their lives according to the moral compass have substantially lower odds of depression …

Second, those who (1) act to promote and do good even at their own expense, while facing difficulties, as well as those who (2) perform acts of kindness, have higher subsequent self-reports of mental health and of physical health (the latter only for acts of kindness) as well as lower odds of depression …

Third, use of SMC to help others in daily life was found to be prospectively associated with lower risk of depression and greater self-reported mental health and physical health, as well as lower risk of a cardiovascular disease …

Finally, the results were also indicative of the protective role of delayed gratification (i.e., always being able to give up some happiness now for greater happiness later) against depression, possibly anxiety and higher self-reports of physical health.

In an interview with The Harvard Gazette, the lead author, Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, observed that public policy and personal ideals were serendipitously aligned. “I thought it’s wonderful that when I am a better human being I can contribute to the better well-being of others, but also, maybe, for myself.”