It was pouring rain at the bus stop, but under my supersize golf umbrella was an oasis of dryness. A man ran toward the stop. Then he stood next to me, head down and hands in pockets. He obviously hadn’t checked the weather forecast that morning. A part of me wanted to ask this stranger if he’d like to share my umbrella. Another part of me, however, didn’t want to stand that close to someone I didn’t know. I argued with myself for seconds and then minutes. Eventually the bus came, and so did my guilt. As I sat on that bus and stared at that poor wet man, I couldn’t help but obsess. Here I was, a health journalist. If anyone knew about the healing powers of kindness, generosity, and altruism, it was me. On a spiritual level, I believed that world peace came from individual acts of kindness and generosity. So why had I hoarded that umbrella? Why was my urge to help overpowered by my urge not to help? And why do good people fail to do good?
WHY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE
According to Darwin’s theory of evolution and “the survival of the fittest,” the strongest survive to pass on their genes to the next generation. This is why even today our brains give us a rewarding hit of joy when we have sex (babies help a species survive) and devour high-calorie foods—today’s hedonistic delight once meant the difference between life and starvation. It’s also why we feel good when we help others, says Dr. James Doty, the director of Project Compassion and a clinical professor of neurosurgery at Stanford. “Kindness is our genetic imperative that has been there for millions of years,” he says. “When you look at humans and animals, science shows that it is the kindest and most cooperative who survive long term. The cruel and ruthless might get a short-term gain, but cruelty and ruthlessness are not good solutions for a species to survive.” Countless studies show that helping others boosts levels of happiness-producing brain chemicals, providing a powerful rush of emotional...
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