Simply contemplating generosity boosts your immunity. When Harvard students watched a film about Mother Teresa tending to orphans, the number of protective antibodies in their saliva surged; when the students were asked to focus on times when they'd been loved by or loving to others, their antibody levels stayed elevated for an hour. In another study, the brain's pleasure centers lit up when people made check marks next to a list of organizations to which they wanted to donate.
Lend an Ear, Help Your Heart
Being generous with your attention can reduce your risk of heart attack. Cardiac arrest is highly correlated with the amount of self-reference ("I," "me," "my") in a person's speech. The best advice? Listen to and connect with others—social ties lower your risk of dying from heart disease.
Lend a Hand, Lower Your Pain
People suffering from chronic pain report decreased intensity, and less disability and depression, when they reach out to others in similar pain. In one study, pain was reduced by 13 percent. Scientists believe the release of endorphins explains the phenomenon.
In a study conducted at Carnegie Mellon University, people who were socially connected reported catching fewer colds. Volunteering is, of course, one of the simplest ways to connect.
Love Heals Some Wounds
In a 2005 Ohio State University study, married couples were given tiny blisters on two occasions. During the first visit, they talked to each other supportively; during the second, they hashed out relationship conflicts. The blisters took a day longer to heal after the second visit, and two days longer in couples with high levels of anger.
The Magic Touch
There's an off switch for the adrenal gland's production of the stress hormone cortisol: massage. A study that recruited retirees to give massages showed that their cortisol—as well as their anxiety and depression—levels dropped significantly.
Stephen Post, PhD, and Jill Neimark are the authors of Why Good Things Happen to Good People (Broadway).
From the December 2009 issue of O, The Oprah Magazine.