I’ve been reading about a book by Allan Luks, called ‘The Healing Power of Doing Good’.
According to Luks, over millions of years our bodies have developed a mechanism whereby we are rewarded when we do good.
He argues that, having learnt the value of ‘cooperation’ as a ‘good survival strategy’, being nice to others produces what’s known as the ‘helper’s high’. The hormonal equivalent of a well done me, every time I do something kind for someone else.
This is an interesting idea. On the one hand, it may explain the glazed eyes and frenzied activity behind activities such as the seemingly innocent Parish coffee morning (aka Great Bake-off). However, if we’re going down the evolutionary route, I can’t help feeling that bloodthirsty rivalry warms the cockles of the heart more efficiently than warm fuzzies. What do I mean? Well, as a survival strategy, it’s hard to see how being nice actually works. Dodos, for example, are nice. Fluffy bunnies. Kittens. Cockroaches – not so much. And in the event of nuclear apocalypse, who’s going down? Not your roachy mates, that’s for sure.
As for the so-called ‘helper’s high’ – well, there’s no doubt that sometimes it feels good to care for others. But it can also be tiring and depressing and draining. Particularly if I’m looking for a response such as gratitude, when instead I’m taken for granted. To be honest, I’ve enjoyed similar benefits from jumping queues, stealing sweets from toddlers, snaffling the last of the toothpaste and watching others struggle through the snow from the comfort of my living room.
Left to my own devices, my inner Hinderer is louder and much more persuasive than the Helper. It goes against my natural instincts to love others – and when I do, it doesn’t result in an endorphin-fuelled high so much as a painful dying to self. It hurts. And the consequences are not always pleasant. For example, what could be more loving than to share the gospel with my family and friends? But speaking the truth in this instance may produce the helper’s hurt as much as the helper’s high. At best, I may be ignored. At worse – despised and rejected.
If my behaviour is driven by the dynamics of survival or by an internally motivated system of rewards, then ‘nice’ hasn’t got a hope. The heart that drives my motives and desires has to be changed. And only the Lord can do that.