Americans pride themselves on their competitive nature and love to finish first, whether in business, war or sports. However, our human nature also is wired for altruism, which is defined by Merriam-Webster as “unselfish regard for or devotion to the welfare of others.”
In fact, studies suggest that our initial impulse tends to be one of cooperation instead of competition. Experts believe that humans are programmed to embrace altruism because as a species, we needed to cooperate to find food, water and shelter in order to survive. Even toddlers display a desire to help others; researchers believe this desire is based on altruism instead of getting credit for doing a good deed.
While our first instinct may be altruism, we still may opt to be selfish. In fact, some researchers suggest that the more we reason and think about an issue, the more likely we will start to behave selfishly instead of altruistically.
So why embrace altruism instead of selfishness? It turns out that altruism actually offers many surprising benefits – enhanced physical and mental health, financial gain, better love lives and stronger relationships. Furthermore, altruism is contagious and can spread through one’s community, causing a ripple effect that results in a wave of positive actions toward others.
Ways to Foster Altruistic Behavior
There are many ways to get in touch with and deepen your sense of altruism:
- Seek out reminders of connectedness – Finding ways to recognize connectedness and kindness in the world can, in turn, help you behave more altruistically. For instance, identify pictures, sayings or objects in your surroundings that convey community, friendship and warmth. These reminders can help encourage your own altruistic behavior. Additionally, regular journaling about ways you’ve benefitted from someone’s kindness and your connection to that person can help you understand the power of altruism and serve as a reminder that your own altruism can make a difference for others.
- Practice random acts of kindness – Everyone can find ways to offer kindness to others during the day. Examples include paying the tab for the person behind you in the drive-through line, opening the door for an elder or making an anonymous donation to a charity.
- Humanize the news of suffering – When thinking about heart-wrenching news, seek out stories and photos of individuals who have been affected, which creates a personal connection to the story. For instance, this Toronto Star story puts a human face on refugees who watched their country destroyed by war. Closer to home, this com story provides a first-hand glimpse of family members whose loved ones were murdered in the church shootings in South Carolina earlier this year.
While altruism starts at the individual level, this behavior can have major implications for the health of a community, city, state, nation and world. Fittingly, Anonymous said it best: “There is no limit to the good a man can do, if he doesn’t care who gets the credit.”
by Dorian Martin for Jennyoga
Primary Sources for This Sharepost:
Kennelly, S. (2012). What Motivates Kids to Help Others? The Greater Good Science Center. The University of California, Berkley.
Simon-Thomas, E. R. (2012). The Cooperative Instinct. The Greater Good Science Center. The University of California, Berkley.
The Greater Good Science Center. What Is Altruism? The University of California, Berkley.
The Greater Good Science Center. Eliciting Altruism. The University of California, Berkley.