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Book Review of: Why Good Things Happen to Good People

The exciting new research that proves the link between doing good and living a longer, healthier, happier life.

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Review of  Why Good Things Happen to Good People, by Stephen Post, PhD, and Jill Neimark (Hardcover, 2007)

(You can print this review in landscape mode, if you want a hardcopy)

Reviewer: Mark Lamendola, author of over 6,000 articles.

This book consists of 13 chapters spanning 287 pages. I'll talk a bit about what's in them and how this book just might change your life. It provides a detailed look at a subject that often "goes back burner" in our busy lives.


In ten of those 13 chapters (3 - 12), you'll find a 20-question assessment. The point of these assessments isn't to compete with others for "best score." Read the whole book, and you should draw the same conclusion (even if you're hyper competitive). The authors intend for the reader into using these as a tool for personal development. Using metrics is a fundamental aspect of managing anything, and these assessments provide that.

While giving is important, you can't always give 100% in every situation. Some will abuse that, and the drain on you will prevent you from doing good where it counts the most. Balance, moderation, and good judgment are all important when assessing your giving patterns. So, it's good to understand the many forms of giving so you can achieve the proper balance that best suits you. Think in terms of tuning up, not ramping up, your patterns of giving and you will probably have the best results.

These assessments can also lead you down the wrong path, if you aren't thinking clearly about them. For example, many of the questions appear to support behavior that involves interfering in other people's lives, "fixing" other people, and butting in where you don't belong. To reduce this, read the whole book and understand the difference between giving for selfish reasons and joyous giving. Recipients can usually pick up on this, which is why (for example) different ways of offering the same helpful advice can elicit completely different reactions.

Some of the questions, such as "I try to donate blood regularly" are inappropriate or improperly structured/rendered. Do you really want an unhealthy person donating blood and then succumbing to exhaustion so medical intervention is required (I know of an actual case). Or contaminating the blood supply?

Donating blood is no minor thing--the amount of blood taken has a noticeable effect on anyone who is already "operating on the margins." Think of airline pilots and truck drivers, for example. Athletes, also must be cautious. Climbing is one of the most demanding sports there is. Suppose a climber gives blood and then gets dizzy during a climb--and other people are depending on that person for their safety. The climber's inappropriate giving decision has negative consequences. Someone who intends to run a marathon next month should postpone giving blood. And so on.

I'm not saying it's bad to give blood. I am saying that whether you give blood or not isn't a measure of how giving you are (it could be a measure of how inconsiderate or reckless you are, or it could be something very positive) and the question should be modified to use giving blood as an example of a concept, rather than as a specific metric. Unfortunately, these assessments mix concepts and specifics, and in so doing lose much of their value.

Questions like "I think it's important to leave this world better than I found it" are so vague as to be useless. Who is going to disagree and say, "I think it's important to leave this world worse than I found it"? Nobody, of course. So, this question skews the scores.

The assessments also have an annoying feature the authors can easily fix before the next printing. Presently, you answer on a scale of 1 to 6, and then go back and reassign scores on those questions that are "reverse" questions. Rather than put the reader through this needless gyration, it would be simpler, less confusing, and less prone to error if the answers themselves were just redone. So where there's a "reverse" question, the potential answers would appear in the same order but their associated numbers would be in reverse order, thus eliminating an extra step. Adding complexity to anything when you can avoid doing so is never a good idea.

The real value of the assessments, in my rarely humble opinion, is they help you draw out and think about specifics on an aspect of giving. In fact, I recommend picking out the chapter where your assessment showed the most need for improvement. Then, re-read that chapter once a week. Make a copy of that area's assessment pages (so you can write notes as you go), and develop some specific goals to improving in each of the 20 specifics. Make those goals specific, measurable, achievable, relevant to your daily life, and time bound (a date assigned to each one). You can use the acronym SMART to help guide you in doing this.


We tend to develop our giving patterns early in life and not modify them as we get older and conditions change. An example is the "gift giving" that many people do at Christmas. Most people engaged in this process do it because they think they have to or they "exchange gifts" (an oxymoron). If you examine your patterns of what you think is giving, you may find that giving is not really what's going on. And that can distract you from the real opportunities in meaningful giving.

Where there's an opportunity to give, we often miss it. For example, small kindnesses take no effort. How many times have we passed up the opportunity to tell someone that we appreciate this or that thing they do? If you're going for a walk outdoors, how much effort is it to take along a small bag and pick up some of the litter? If a neighbor has surgery to remove a lung this winter, are you going to wish him a speedy recovery--essentially an expected and empty gesture--or are you going to shovel his driveway without being asked to? This book will help you think of those things.


That brings us to another aspect of this book. We humans are wired to help others. Some of us have broken wiring, but most people want to help. Engaging in generous behavior causes all kinds of good things to go on with us physically and emotionally, and today we can measure these changes with the medical tools now available to us.

The expression "Give until it hurts" doesn't fit with the medical research on giving. Giving, when seen as an opportunity to bring joy to someone else, can bring very high returns on the effort expended. That old saw should probably be revised to "Give until it stops hurting."

This book is loaded with references to various studies, trials, and experiments. It also contains many direct quotes from researchers, insightful anecdotes, and heart-rending real-life accounts. The science in the book is impressive. For example, one research project is a fifty-year study that followed people from their high school years forward.

It's easy to look around and become cynical. You can justify any attitude you care to have. But some attitudes are just plain better for you than others. As you read the science presented in this book, you'll find the attitude of giving comes out on top.

The chapters

If you read just the preface and turn it over in your mind, you may find yourself reconsidering how you view your place in the world. In fact, I recommend that. Don't read the rest of the book, just yet. Read the preface, and then set aside time to return to it and reflect on it. You could probably do this with each chapter.

The first two chapters lay the groundwork for the rest of the book. The final chapter helps you tie it all together with guidance on putting together a life program of your own. As with any good sandwich, the stuff in the middle is what makes it a treat.  Each of the 10 middle chapters is devoted to one aspect of giving. Can you name 10 aspects of giving? Humor and courage both make the list.

Post and Neimark produced a valuable work. At one point, they talked about the Tolerance Project and provided many examples of what it's doing. In one example, Muslims, Christians, and Jews met together inside the Dome of the Rock in Israel. They all prayed alongside each other, in their own traditions and in their own languages. The participants found this moving, and they found they could respect and live alongside those others with whom they have deep differences.

What if that kind of harmony could happen around the world? In Iraq, right now? Between Pakistan and India? In the barrios of Los Angeles? Between Congress and the American people? Between you and that pesky neighbor who (doesn't mow, plays loud music at night, whatever)?

This example illustrates the kind of inspiring information you will find in this book. What if 1 million people read this book and began applying the lessons learned? What kind of healing power would that generate, and how would that grow? Giving has a way of inspiring others to give. I think I'll start by giving someone a copy of this book.




About these reviews

You may be wondering why the reviews here are any different from the hundreds of "reviews" posted online. Notice the quotation marks?

I've been reviewing books for sites like Amazon for many years now, and it dismays me that Amazon found it necessary to post a minimum word count for reviews. It further dismays me that it's only 20 words. If that's all you have to say about a book, why bother?

And why waste everyone else's time with such drivel? As a reader of such reviews, I feel like I am being told that I do not matter. The flippancy of people who write these terse "reviews" is insulting to the authors also, I would suspect.

This sound bite blathering taking the place of any actual communication is increasingly a problem in our mindless, blog-posting Webosphere. Sadly, Google rewards such pointlessness as "content" so we just get more if this inanity.

My reviews, contrary to current (non) standards, actually tell you about the book. I always got an "A" on a book review I did as a kid (that's how I remember it anyhow, and it's my story so I'm sticking to it). A book review contains certain elements and has a logical structure. It informs the reader about the book.

A book review may also tell the reader whether the reviewer liked it, but revealing a reviewer's personal taste is not necessary for an informative book review.

About your reviewer

  • Books are a passion of mine. I read dozens of them each year, plus I listen to audio books.
  • Most of my "reading diet" consists of nonfiction. I think life is too short to use your limited reading time on material that has little or no substance. That leads into my next point...
  • In 1990, I stopped watching television. I have not missed it. At all.
  • I was first published as a preteen. I wrote an essay, and my teacher submitted it to the local paper.
  • For six years, I worked as an editor for a trade publication. I left that job in 2002, and still do freelance editing and authoring for that publication (and for other publications).
  • No book has emerged from my mind onto the best-seller list. So maybe I'm presumptuous in judging the work of others. Then again, I do more describing than judging in my reviews. And I have so many articles now published that I stopped counting them at 6,000. When did I stop? Probably 20,000 articles ago! (It's been a while).
  • I have an engineering degree and an MBA, among other "quant" degrees. That helps explain my methodical approach toward reviews.
  • You probably don't know anybody who has made a perfect or near perfect score on a test of Standard Written English. I have. So, a credential for whatever it's worth.

About reading style

No, I do not "speed read" through these. That said, I do read at a fast rate. But, in contrast to speed reading, I read everything when I read a book for review.

Speed reading is a specialized type of reading that requires skipping text as you go. Using this technique, I've been able to consistently "max out" a speed reading machine at 2080 words per minute with 80% comprehension. This method is great if you are out to show how fast you can read. But I didn't use it in graduate school and I don't use it now. I think it takes the joy out of reading, and that pleasure is a big part of why I read.

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