Seeing The Good Around Me: The Biology of Good

There are some of you with a chemistry background who may recognize the structure pictured above (even without the caption). For those of you who don’t, it’s a hormone called oxytocin.

 

Medical folks, or anyone who has studied physiology, are likely familiar with this compound. It is produced in the brain and is responsible for different actions in the body. The action I remember learning about is the induction of labor during pregnancy. Since I was in school, though, there are other effects traced back to the release of oxytocin.

 

One of those is the good feeling you get from kindness.

 

Interestingly, more than just an internal smile takes place-the arteries relax, the heart doesn’t have to pump as much, and blood pressure lowers. A simple act of kindness can produce a physiological response in the person offering that act.

 

I believe in a divine Creator of my body, so believing that there is this domino effect from doing something good isn’t much of a stretch for me. I see verse after verse in the Bible where we are told to do good to one another, love one another, take care of orphans and widows, feed the hungry, and many other caring acts towards our neighbors. How lovely is it that He designed me to receive a reward for these good deeds?

 

What if He hadn’t designed me this way? Would I still do good things for those around me? I would like to think so, but I wonder if there are times this would cause stress on my body instead of calm. I say that because I can think of those times when I know I should do something for someone else (allow them the closer parking spot even though I am in a hurry, as an example) when I don’t feel a flush of subclinical euphoria. There are times that I still feel a little cranky even though I know I did something nice. What if I had to go through a monologue of self-talk to make myself act kindly? I am fairly sure there are times the moment would have passed by before I finished pepping myself up and I would have lost that opportunity.

 

So, there is a link I can see between the fact that we receive an internal reward for being part of the good. Fewer opportunities are lost because we anticipate the happiness we will feel when we do something good for somebody else. I have enough experience with this feeling that, even on bad days, I know that I will feel something different and possibly turn my day around.

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