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Natural Awakenings National

A Conversation with Stephen Post: Founder of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love

Feb 01, 2008 03:00AM ● By S. Alison Chabonais

Founder of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love and author of Why Good Things Happen to Good People.

Q. Why does the world need your book?
A.  Why Good Things Happen to Good People brings readers the surprising news that doing good is actually good for you. We know of 500 scientific studies that demonstrate the power of unselfish love to enhance health. Fifty recent studies funded by our Institute at 45 leading U.S. universities support this conclusion. Collectively they prove that giving—far more than receiving—is the most potent force for good on the planet. Acts of personal generosity reverberate across an entire lifetime, nourishing health, healing and happiness in astonishing ways.

Even when people don’t understand that giving is its own reward, they still feel the helper’s high. As one inmate said to me, “It’s good to be good.” Our research shows that people want to be generous.

We have infinite ways to give. Ten quizzes in the book reveal our personal strengths and which areas might need work. Responding to what we learn can help gradually shift us to a life of greater giving to family, friends, neighbors and the larger community. Giving creates a healthier society.

Q.  What’s the highest, most satisfying, life-enhancing form of giving?
A.  They all are. It depends on the situation. Each of us has gifts that bless, and big or small, the internal compensation of giving love is great. Especially when compared with the alternative of internalizing disdain, hostility and rage, which eat away at the body like acid.

When I first get up in the morning, I try to think about who in my life needs a little more compassion, who could use a bit of affirmation and celebration, who needs me to listen, who would appreciate help with something. My meditation affirms how I can be most articulate and loving with each person scheduled in my day. Also, how will I treat the slow cashier or rude driver I’ll likely never see again? What gift do they need? A small gesture can change the tone of a life.

This way I move into my day with a vision that helps me stay in the flow of a generous love all day. I call it the dandelion effect. You never know where a love-blown seed will connect and grow.

Q. Why is giving so closely tied to how we love?
A.  When the happiness and security of another person mean as much or more to me as my own happiness and security, I love that person. So how do I cut to the chase? That’s what the book does. It makes the gift of love more tangible in ways that make sense to people.

Q.  How can we realize happy, healthy relationships?
A  The wonderful gift of love makes relationships work. It must be right-hearted and wise. It’s hard to love when there’s no loyalty or laughter. Love is more than duty, it embraces warmth and tenderness.

I believe that love is in the details. Our family often passes around a gratitude bell at dinner. Each of us in turn shares the three things we’re most grateful for, and also can report on anything for which we need help. Little rituals like this communicate caring. We feel attached at the heart.

How wonderful life is when we make the shift from self to other. We discover a deeper, richer sense of self as we give of ourself more and stop seeing others as existing to fulfill our own agenda. We feel more fulfilled and connected. Admittedly there are times when we may find ourself going through the motions of kindness on the basis of duty alone, but such periods can give way to real warmth and tender loving care.

Q.   Are humans hard-wired to love?
A.  We have natural abilities for love. But due to culture, media and a lack of mentors and role models, this innate gift can get lost. Being secular and compassionate is great. But for me it’s a higher Source of Love that allows us to cut through the obscuring layers to our native spiritual intuition and realize love in our lives.

Despite all the violence and craziness in the world, at heart I firmly believe that love is a creative presence at the center of the Universe and that it’s active in our lives. The power of love, gratitude, awe, compassion, forgiveness, hope and faith show up in all the great spiritual traditions. Loving nurtures these qualities long-term.

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