Love continues to be the foundation of the work I do with IamSignificant.ca and as a spiritual director. Much more potent than a Sunday school sentiment for Children, becoming love is the very essence of the Kingdom of God. I am totally convinced that love changes everything. It is the single biggest longing in the hearts of most healthy people, and to the degree we experience authentic love, is the extent to which we are made whole, that we experience abundant life. It is also true that that to the degree we experience love is the extent to which we can offer love in return, and to others. It is in this cycle of love that we begin to see radical transformation in people and communities. Descartes asserted "I think, there I am, and I would offer the spin that I am loved and I love, therefore I am."
While the topic of love has been plumbed by mystics, artists and poets alike there is fascinating clinical evidence that affirms the healing and transformational effects of genuine love for both the receiver of the love, and the giver! I am told there are at least five hundred credible scientific studies that provide evidence of the profound impact of unselfish, genuine love has upon one's health, and in many cases lasting a lifetime.
Examples include the work of Paul Wink at Wellesley College in conjunction with USC (Berkeley). Wink working with 200 individuals, some who had been tracked since the 1920's, has observed a relationship between people who volunteered/served others in High School and good physical and mental health in late adulthood.
Doug Odom of USC Berkeley, in a 5-year study with two thousand participants over the age of 50, found that those who volunteered for two or more organizations have a 44% lower mortality rate (after adjusting for other contributing factors like smoking, exercise, etc.) This is significant when you consider that it has a greater impact than exercise four times a week (30%) or attending a weekly religious service (29%).
Numerous studies of teen boys and girls have demonstrated that when teens engage in regular volunteering/giving of themselves they tend to be more resilient, and significantly less likely to experience depression.
These are just a few of the impressive studies demonstrating the wellness benefits of authentic love. They demonstrate that in the selfless giving of ourselves to serve and encourage others not only reduces mortality but reduces instances of chronic depression, anxiety and reduces the negative impact of stress. Interestingly in a study involving 989 adults over the age of seventy-four, they found that when these adults provided emotional support to others it enhanced a significant segment of the sample's ability to forgive themselves, reducing feelings of shame for past mistakes.
I think it is important that we recognized that learning to love cannot be taught with slick slogans and snazzy power points nor can we be badgered, manipulated or shamed into loving. Love is caught not taught. As I wrote above, the degree to which we have experienced love is the degree to which we can love. The deeper the experience of love, the more profound the personal transformation. Scripture would seem to confirm this in that we can love because He first loved us, and those who are forgiven much will love much, and we are invited to taste and see that the Lord is good. These are not mere intellectual ascents or theological statements as much as it is a personal experience of the healing acceptance, the goodness of God.
Dr. Karl Menniger suggests, "Love cures - both the ones who give it and the ones who receive it." We can talk about how this love produces fruit in our lives (fruit of the Spirit) - how as we learn to live loved, and in turn learn to love others - we quite naturally experience a depth of life, a new kind of vibrancy that transcends all of life - even the tough things. Jesus taught that as we lay down our lives we will experience life afresh, that in losing our lives for something beyond our own selfishness we discover life anew. In the acts (lifestyle) of loving others as ourselves (as Jesus loved us), we are not only a blessing and encouragement to those we serve but as the research is supporting, a benefit to the lover as well. It is mind blowing and heart expanding to realize that we can literally love others and ourselves into greater health and wholeness!
source: Why Good Things Happen to Good People. How to Live a longer, healthier happier life by the Simple Act of Giving. Stephen Post, Ph.D & Jill Neimark. Broadway Books , 2007