Jill: So, why does the world need WHY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE?
Stephen: This book is so unusual. It brings readers the surprising news that doing good is actually good for you. We give scientific credibility to the age-old wisdom that giving is its own reward. Our book has timeless philosophy, a new science of health and longevity, wonderfully inspiring life stories, a self-help scale, and many tips on giving and living a happier, healthier longer life.
Stephen: If WHY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE could be on every breakfast table maybe we could encourage giving in a new way in this world. Sometimes people lose confidence in their own good natures because of all the group hatred and violence around them.
Jill: I remember our first interview so well. It was June of 2003 and I was attending an international conference you co-sponsored in Philadelphia, on love and giving. At the very tail end of the conference we had a pizza together that lasted all afternoon.
Stephen: You were the last journalist I had to speak with. I think you missed your train back to New York!
Jill: What I was learning over that pizza seemed more important than a train ticket. I remember you saying that the theme of giving was the work of a lifetime, one that had carried you through about four decades of study in ethics, religious thought, the life sciences, and medicine. There was so much fascinating new research discussed at the conference, so many incredible studies coming out of your Institute, and most remarkably, the conference had attracted a true melting pot, from neuroscientists to energy healers, and I realized this was a subject at the heart of all lives—why giving is so good for us.
Stephen: People need to know just how good giving is for them. I grew up on Long Island listening to Billy Joel, humming along with songs like "Only the Good Die Young." I so wanted to get the word out that in fact the opposite is true. Giving goes with rather than against the grain of human nature, and I believe we will discover our true selves when we give to others.
Jill: You seem to have an inborn ebullience, a natural faith in the goodness of life and the reality of love. I'm more of a wisher and a doubter. I came to the book wanting to see how the 'truth' of your philosophy and science measured up against my real, daily life. I would interview these amazing givers, and study the science, which was so impressive, and over time it came to change me. I think this book may serve that purpose for readers, too. It allows a true self-exploration. I learned, for instance, that I'm very good at courage and creativity, and that I need to celebrate and forgive more. How do you see your own strengths?
Stephen: I am pretty balanced. But I always try to focus on attentive listening, the kind that really lets people know that they are being taken seriously and affirmed. And I focus in on loyalty, because so often people desert someone whose life gets a little banged up. Generativity and humor often converge for me, especially as a teacher. Creativity is key too, as I enjoy reaching out to scientists and givers around the world, and even envision building up new institutes around them and their work. But really, I try to apply the right way depending on what people need at the time.
Jill: One of the great privileges of working on this book was getting to interview remarkable folks you sent my way. Tell me about a few of your favorite givers that we highlight in the book.
Stephen: I just returned from an amazing three days with Jean Vanier in the small town of Trosly-Breuil, an hour north of Paris, where he founded L'Arche, an international movement now in 120 countries that brings together young volunteers and people with cognitive developmental disabilities.
Jill: Ah yes. We featured him in our chapter on generativity. What was he like in person?
Stephen: Jean and I talked for hours about love as the celebration of all lives, and about how much the volunteers in L'Arche benefit from what they do. He is a real saint, as far as I am concerned. Jean is mentioned often as a likely recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize. He deserves it. Three days with him…it was like being with Gandhi, Mother Teresa, and Wilberforce all in one. His love for every single person was completely palpable. I came home completely inspired. What a humble man, what a joyful man.
Another incredible person, who wrote our preface, is Pastor Otis Moss, Jr., a protégé of Martin Luther King, Jr., chairman emeritus of the Morehouse College Board of Trustees, and amazingly, Pastor of the Olivet Institutional Baptist Church that is just a few blocks away from the medical school here at Case Western. Pastor Moss embodies giving as courage, in seeking justice and respect for all people not through violence, but through the power of nonviolent love. When ever I am with him, his very presence exudes integrity, and he tells me stories about everyone from "Daddy" King and Benjamin Elijah Mays to Howard Thurman and Rosa Parks. He has total faith in nonviolent love as the most effective force for change.
Jill: Those are huge people, people who have changed the world. But you know the most profound lesson I learned from this book? That I can give in the smallest ways, and it will reverberate in big ways. That I can give a smile, a kind word, a joke, a flower, you name it, and it will change someone's day, it will lift them up and it really feels good to do so. We overlook both how simple giving is and how powerful.
Stephen: When I get up in the morning, first thing, I try to think about who in my life needs a little more compassion, a little more affirmation and celebration, who needs to be listened to a bit more, who needs help with something they are doing,… And I visualize these encounters, from my wife and kids to students and colleagues to patients in clinic. This way when I move into the day I have a vision. For me it is all about having the vision. WHY GOOD THINGS HAPPEN TO GOOD PEOPLE helps because the reader can see all the different ways of giving, and even take little quizzes to get a sense of where their strengths lie, and what might need some work. And the key for me is to stay in the "flow" of love all day, even in moments when I must honestly say no to someone or confront behaviors that are hurtful. Start your day with giving! That is the answer to a good and happy life.