Love, Compassion, Kindness and Well-being


Love, Compassion, Kindness and Well-being

By Jayney Goddard MSc, FCMA, FRSPH, Lic.LCCH, Dip.ACH.  President: The Complementary Medical Association

There is a wealth of academic research in the field of ‘compassion’ – particularly in the nursing arena and now spreading to other conventional medical fields too and it is becoming firmly established that love, kindness, compassion and altruism are all associated with positive health benefits for those giving and receiving these beautiful acts. These benefits impact us on every level; mentally, emotionally, physically and of course spiritually.

Of course, those of us working in the complementary medical and natural healthcare fields intuitively know all of this and more.  Speaking very personally, I have to say that I am constantly and consistently astonished by the profound kindness and compassion I witness every day by observing the work of our wonderful Members here at The Complementary Medical Association –I know that I am deeply privileged to be able to interact with these incredible selfless people – and I am eternally grateful.

What follows is a collection of just some of the research that I have come across over the years - and which I believe speaks deeply to the effects of love, kindness, compassion and altruism on us all.  This is my Valentine to you – given with love and best wishes for your health and well-being in every respect.

Positive emotions and well-being. 

In the 1990s researchers (Danner et al.) revisited the famous study conducted among nuns who had written short personal essays. It was found that the nuns who expressed the most positive emotions lived 10 years longer and were also somewhat protected from dementia.[1]

Furthermore, when we are able to embrace positive emotions – when we feel good, our thinking becomes more creative, integrative, flexible, and we are so much more open to information. To illustrate this, a study conducted in 2003 by Fredrickson demonstrated that positive emotions dramatically enhanced psychological and physical resistance[2]

Health benefits for recipients (those who receive compassionate love)

Most of us innately sense that compassion, love, and social support have health benefits for recipients and research bears this out too (Ainsworth et al., 1978; Harlow, 1958). There is the famous “Bunny Love Study” (my name for it – do forgive me!). In this study, researchers in the late 1970s were studying the effects of a diet high in fat and cholesterol in rabbits. During the study a rather strange anomaly became apparent: One subgroup of rabbits had 60% less atherosclerosis than the group as a whole, even though they ate the same diet. It was eventually discovered that the lab assistant who fed and cared for this particular group of rabbits took them out of their cages, petted them, and talked to them before feeding. The study was repeated twice with the same results and was reported in Science (Nerem, Levesque, & Cornhill, 1980).[3]

Love, closeness and caring in families is incredibly important for health and well-being:  In a remarkable study, reported by Stephen G Post – (Director, Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care, and Bioethics at Stony Brook University and President of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love) 126 healthy young men were randomly selected in the early 1950s from the Harvard classes of 1952 and 1954 and given questionnaires about their perceptions of the love they felt from their parents.

Thirty-five years later, the men were followed up and 91% of participants who reported that they did not perceive themselves to have had warm relationships with their mothers had medically diagnosed midlife diseases (including coronary artery disease, high blood pressure, duodenal ulcer, and alcoholism), as compared to only 45% of those who reported a warm relationship with their mothers.  In addition, 82% of those indicated low warmth and closeness to their fathers had these diagnoses too, compared with 50% who reported high warmth and closeness.

Astoundingly, 100% of those who reported low warmth and closeness from both parents had diseases diagnosed in midlife, whereas only 47% who reported both parents as being warm and close had midlife diagnoses. Post states: “Although this Harvard study needs corroboration, it points to the now widely accepted biopsychosocial model that being loved, cared for, and supported by others is critically important to health and treatment efficacy (Goodkin & Visser, 2000).”[4]

Women too are deeply affected by emotional stress.  In the now very well-known 2004 study by Epel, Blackburn et al., two groups of women were studied: the first set were mums looking after healthy children and the second set were mums looking after chronically ill children.  The researchers were keen to find out whether emotional stress can be correlated with premature ageing – as frequently people who are chronically stressed often look ‘haggard’. The researchers were particularly interested in whether stress has an effect on telomere length.  Telomeres are DNA–protein complexes that cap chromosomal ends, promoting chromosomal stability. Think of them as being a bit like the plastic bits on the ends of your shoelaces – that stop your laces from unraveling. When cells divide, the telomere is not fully replicated because of limitations of the DNA polymerases in completing the replication of the ends of the linear molecules, leading to telomere shortening with every replication.  Think of it as taking a photocopy of a photocopy – an how an image degrades with repeated copying. 

It was found that the women with highest levels of perceived stress caring for their chronically ill children had telomeres that were, on average, shortened by one decade.[5]

Altruism, happiness and health

Selflessness and altruism lead to happiness and health. Retired people over the age of 65 Retires older than 65 who volunteered to help others rated significantly higher on life satisfaction and will to live and demonstrated far fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and somatization.[6]

Study after study shows that adult altruistic behaviour is associated with enhanced well-being, improved morale, self-esteem, and positive emotions.[7] Furthermore, studies show that there is also a reduction in depressive symptoms[8] among people who help others and higher levels of happiness, and evidence of enhanced overall wellness.[9]

There is a phenomenon called the “Helper’s High”: In fact, research by Luks[10] shows that two thirds of helpers reported a distinct physical sensation associated with helping:

About half report a “high” feeling
43% felt stronger and more energetic
28% felt warm
22% felt calmer and less depressed
21% felt greater self-worth
13% experienced fewer aches and pains

The effects of doing kind and compassionate actions can be measured physiologically: Older adults massaging infants had measurably lowerl levels of stress hormones, including salivary cortisol and plasma norepinephrine and epinephrine.[11]

And finally, even just watching kindness and compassion in action makes you physically more resilient – as does thinking about love.  Students were asked to watch a film about about Mother Teresa’s work, or they were given the task (!) of “dwelling on love”.  After the two tasks were undertaken it was found that there was a significant increase in the protective salivary immunoglobin A (S-IgA).[12]



[1] Danner, D. D., Snowdon, D. A., & Friesen, W. V. (2001). Positive emotions in early life and longevity: Findings from the nun study. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 80, 804–813.

[2] Fredrickson, B. L. (2003). The value of positive emotions: The emerging science of positive psychology is coming to under- stand why it’s good to feel good. American Scientist, 91, 330–335..

[3] Nerem, R. M., Levesque, M. J., & Cornhill, J. F. (1980). Social envi- ronment as a factor in diet-induced atherosclerosis. Science, 208, 1475–1476.

[4] Russek, L. G., & Schwartz, G. E. (1997). Feelings of parental caring predict health status in midlife: A 35 year follow-up of the Harvard Mastery of Stress Study. Journal of Behavioral Medicine, 20, 1–13.

[5] Epel, S. E., Blackburn, E. S., Lin, J., Dhabhar, F. S., Adler, N. E., Morrow, J. D., & Cawthorn, R. M. (2004). “Accelerated telomere shortening in response to life stress.” Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 101, 17312–17315.

[6] Hunter, K. I., & Linn, M. W. (1980–1981). Psychosocial differences between elderly volunteers and non-volunteers. International Journal of Aging and Human Development, 12, 205–213.

[7] Midlarsky, E., & Kahana, E. (1994). Altruism in later life. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

[8] Musick, M. A., Herzog, A. R., & House, J. S. (1999). Volunteering and mortality among older adults: Findings from a national sample. Journals of Gerontology Series B-Psychological Sci- ences Social Sciences, 54(3), S173–S180.

[9] Krueger, R. F., Hicks, B. M., & McGue, M. (2001). Altruism and an- tisocial behavior: Independent tendencies, unique personality correlates, distinct etiologies. Psychological Science, 12, 397–402.

[10] Luks, A. (1988, October). Helper’s high: Volunteering makes people feel good, physically and emotionally. And like “runner’s  calm,” it’s probably good for your health. Psychology Today, 22(10), 34–42.

[11] Field, M. F., Hernandez-Reif, M., Quintino, O., Schanberg, S., & Kuhn C. (1998). Elder retired volunteers benefit from giving message therapy to infants. Journal of Applied Gerontology, 17,


[12] McClelland, D., McClelland, D. C., & Kirchnit, C. (1988). The ef- fect of motivational arousal through films on salivary immuno- globulin A. Psychology and Health, 2, 31–52.


Harnessing the Power of Stress

Harnessing the Power of Stress

This latest study from the University of Rochester in the
United States has shown that not all stress is bad, but ...

Existing drugs kill SARS-CoV2 in cells

The One True Fast - Comparing Water-only Fasting, Intermittent Fasting and Fasting Mimicing Diets


The College of Integrative Medicine (CIM) is launching 42 amazing new courses and they are seeking CMA Registered Practitioners and Lecturers to teach both online and in Dubai.

A new treatment has been developed for those suffering from extreme hands tremors

An article announcing a study that looks at the science behind the art of acupuncture - an eastern treatment that has been embraced in the western world as an alternative to medicine for years now. the aim of the study is to better improve understanding of this treatment to make it even more effective across the board.

Study of the effects of direct oral anticoagulants vs traditional vitamin k method in order to reduce risks of dementia.

The COMPLEMENTARY MEDICAL ASSOCIATION (The CMA) © 2012. No part of this site may be reproduced without the express permission of The Complementary Medical Association. If used without prior consent a charge of US $1,000 per article, or mini section is paid (US $50 per word (minimum) will be charged. This is not meant to reflect a commercial rate for the content, but as a punitive cost and to reimburse The CMA for legal fees and time costs). Use of the contents, without permission will be taken as consent to bill the illegal user in full.