Continuing on with the seven part series regarding happiness, this week we’re digging deeper on habit four: Altruism.
Doing good things is an essential ingredient to happiness. How we spend our time and our resources is more important then the amount of money we make. Giving to others releases endorphins and activates the part of our brain that is associated with trust, pleasure, and social connection.
So what is Altruism?
It is when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves. It involves the unselfish concern for other people simply out of a desire to help, and not because of obligation, duty, loyalty, or religious reasons. Studies have found that a person’s first impulse is to cooperate rather than compete. This hardwired ability helped our ancestors to cooperate and survive under harsh conditions.
In the Boston marathon bombings, some of the people in the crowd intuitively rushed towards recently exploded bombs. These were not people trained in being first responders, they rushed to a stranger’s aide because they knew help was needed – period. They put their own well being on hold so that they could help another who was in need. That was not only an extreme example of altruism, it was an act of selfless bravery!
“Altruism is one of the most fundamentally social impulses. Doing things for others without expecting anything in return is core to what makes us human.” – Joe Green
When we make the effort to give without expected reciprocity, we feel fulfilled and energized. Practicing altruism enhances our well-being emotionally, physically, romantically, and even financially; and it is crucial to having healthy communities.
Here’s what researchers found regarding altruism:
- People reported a significant happiness boost after doing something kind for others. Some studies suggest that giving to others make people feel even happier than spending money on themselves. When we give, we stimulate areas of our brain associated with pleasure, trust, and social connection, thus giving ourselves a “helpers high.”
- People who volunteer tend to feel better physically and mentally. Senior citizens who volunteer or regularly help friends and family have a significantly lower chance of dying prematurely.
- Being altruistic helps us to find a mate. 10,000 people were surveyed within thirty-seven different cultures – all of them stated that kindness was the most important criterion for mate selection. Wow!
- Altruism helps to fight addiction tendencies. Addicts who help others – even in minor ways, significantly improve their changes of staying sober and avoiding relapse.
- Giving is contagious. When we give the benefactor isn’t always the individual or organization, it causes a ripple effect of generosity throughout the local community. When a person behaves generously, it inspires observes to behave generously later towards others.
- Being altruistic makes us happier! Being altruistic supports our ability to be compassionate and to find good qualities in others. Giving to others helps us to feel grateful for our own good fortune and gives us a way to use our strengths and talents in a meaningful way. It also helps us to have an increased sense of connection and community with others, which is one of the strongest factors to increasing happiness.
“Altruism is innate, but it’s not instinctual. Everybody’s wired for it, but a switch has to be flipped.” David Rakoff
There are many ways to introduce or enhance a consistent habit of altruism that isn’t practiced only around the holiday season. Altruism can be simple things such as performing random acts of kindness or more extensive commitments of your time, health (blood/organ donation), or money.
For me I am a huge fan of performing random acts of kindness such as putting a neighbors news paper on their front porch as I walk home after a run, refilling the coffee supplies for my co-workers (even though I don’t drink coffee at work), to putting shopping carts left in the parking by others in the shopping cart corral. I’m also a financial supporter of American Cancer Society and American Heart Association. But after writing this post I can see that I can and should do so much more such as volunteer some of my time. Note to self: Do that will you? 🙂
How will you start or enhance your altruism habit?