What is Altruism?

Altruism looks like taking action out of the care for other people, ultimately promoting the welfare of others. This sort of behavior is primal. Human’s first instinct is to cooperate instead of compete, meaning we are inherently wired to promote the health of other humans. Altruistic behavior has helped the human species survive.


On a more personal level, helping and cooperation is not only to the benefit of others, but also to the benefit of the individual. Help and cooperation promote survival. When acting altruistically the same pathways in the brain responsible for pleasure and reward are stimulated. This means being kind to others comes with health benefits.


Generosity is part of our natural development in addition to our biology and evolutionary history. Generosity is an evolutionary adaptation that promotes survival. Altruism is usually a response to having empathy, or the desire to help others. Humans instinctively do not want to see other humans suffering, so much so that they will give even when they are experiencing scarcity.


The rewards of altruism include vitality and self-esteem, these contribute to quality of life. These come as a result of giving and generosity. There are also intangible rewards like admiration and respect that can come from altruistic behavior. Sometimes there are more tangible rewards that come as a result of generosity like money or goods.


Altruism can look like giving time, effort, or goods. Social support like volunteering is a great way to be altruistic. When volunteering there is no expectation of return, you are being obviously generous with your time, all while experiencing increased “helper’s high.” When volunteering you are putting the needs of others in front of your own, improving the quality of life of someone else while simultaneously improving your own quality of life.


The motivations behind generosity can differ. An egoistic approach drives action from a place of trying to impress, or look generous in the eyes of someone else. An altruistic approach is one motivated by the well-being of others. Empathic motivation is a driving factor in altruism, making empathy and sympathy driving forces. The feeling is compassion in response to someone else’s loneliness, sadness, or distress.


Below is a short list of altruistic qualities:

  • Doing something for someone else without the expectation of anything in return

  • Sharing with others in the face of scarcity

  • Concern for someone else's well-being

When you are feeling low, altruistic behavior can help you to feel more vibrant. It is okay to not always be putting the well-being of others ahead of your own, but there are small but mighty ways to lift the spirits, or give to others and in turn lift your own spirit:

  • Next time you see someone who could use a hand, stop to help them. Be sure to ask if they could use a hand getting permission to approach them. Taking a few minutes to be of service to someone else naturally stimulates your pleasure and reward center

  • Volunteer at an organization where there mission is something that inspires you

  • Let someone go ahead of you in traffic or in line

Trying on altruism can have lasting effects on your overall well-being, and the well-being of others. All of this to say kindness and generosity can change your life.


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