In Month of Giving, a Healthy Reward

Published: November 30, 2009

When Cami Walker of Los Angeles learned three years ago that she had multiple sclerosis, her health and her spirits plummeted — until she got an unusual prescription from a holistic health educator.

Ms. Walker, now 36, scribbled the idea in her journal. And though she dismissed it at first, after weeks of fatigue, insomnia, pain and preoccupation with her symptoms, she decided to give it a try. The treatment and her experience with it are summed up in the title of her new book, “29 Gifts: How a Month of Giving Can Change Your Life” (Da Capo Press).

Ms. Walker gave a gift a day for 29 days — things like making supportive phone calls or saving a piece of chocolate cake for her husband. The giving didn’t cure her multiple sclerosis, of course. But it seems to have had a startling effect on her ability to cope with it. She is more mobile and less dependent on pain medication. The flare-ups that routinely sent her to the emergency room have stopped, and scans show that her disease has stopped progressing.

“My first reaction was that I thought it was an insane idea,” Ms. Walker said. “But it has given me a more positive outlook on life. It’s about stepping outside of your own story long enough to make a connection with someone else.”

And science appears to back her up. “There’s no question that it gives life a greater meaning when we make this kind of shift in the direction of others and get away from our own self-preoccupation and problems,” said Stephen G. Post, director of the Center for Medical Humanities, Compassionate Care and Bioethics at Stony Brook University on Long Island and a co-author of “Why Good Things Happen to Good People” (Broadway, 2007). “But it also seems to be the case that there is an underlying biology involved in all this.” click here for more
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