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Researchers from Harvard’s Human Flourishing Program and the Harvard Chan School’s SHINE programme believe they have discovered a connection between acting with strong morals and a good character and many health benefits, both from a physical and mental perspective.
The study involved over 1,200 participants. Dorota Weziak-Bialowolska, an Associate of the Institute for Quantitative Social Science and co-author of the study, gives more details.
Weziak-Bialowolska explains to The Harvard Gazette that she asked participants to rate themselves on five different dimensions.
The Different Dimensions for a Good Character
The dimensions are: “I always act to promote good in all circumstances, especially in difficult and hard situations,” “I always treat everyone with kindness,” “I am always able to give up some happiness now for greater happiness later,” and “I use my strength to serve others.” The questions were designed to weed out participants trying to “appear good,” and they were meant to elicit a true sense of moral behaviour and good character in people’s day-to-day lives.
The outcomes had an impact in three areas in particular:
1. Reduced risk of depression
2. Reduced Anxiety
3. Advantages for the heart, particularly in light of heart disease.
Character strength was a component of the study because it was created out of a goal to discover unorthodox health resources, things that would prove advantageous and favourable for overall well-being. The common component across all three is fundamentally “delayed gratification,” which is also sometimes referred to as “a cornerstone” of the morally upright individual.
We observed a relationship with sadness, but also with anxiety and cardiovascular illness, says Weziak-Bialowolska. “What was extremely unexpected was the association between delayed gratification and health consequences. Health research has shown that delaying gratification is beneficial. If you can avoid unhealthy behaviours like drinking or smoking, you can assume that it will be beneficial for you. We did, however, inquire about the proclamation, “I am always able to give up some satisfaction now for greater happiness later.” There were no overt signs of health. Weziak-Bialowolska continues, “It was about happiness, something abstract, but we observed a relationship with health outcomes.”
The Human Flourishing Program at Harvard has different goals than SHINE, but for the average person, it simply means that doing nice things can be good for you. A good character leads to you being healthier. These are a few of the health advantages that have been identified, but more may be found with greater investigation and study. Weziak-Bialowolska considers the outcome to be positive. We were relieved to discover these correlations, and for me personally, she adds, “it was really comforting.” I thought it was amazing that, as a better person, I might contribute to the happiness of others and, perhaps, even of myself.