Have you ever helped another person by doing something for them without any expectation? Or have you ever helped someone despite facing risk or personal expense? Well, altruism is defined as the act of helping out another individual that benefits them at a cost to you. In simple words, it is an unselfish act of helping another individual with a desire to help by taking some toll on oneself. An example of altruism is seeing a hungry woman sitting on a footpath and giving her your food as you want to help her. You may help her by taking the toll of you remaining hungry at that time. This article focuses on how and why altruism makes us feel better.
From sharing commodities at the time of emergency to holding a lift door for a stranger; and from donating blood at blood drives to helping an old man cross a road, each of us, at a certain point in our day, do small acts of altruism. An inspiring real-life example of such philanthropy was when the Air Florida 90 aeroplane crashed into the river. All the survivors climbed to the tail of the aircraft as the sea's temperature was around thirty negative degrees. At the time of rescue, a passenger Arland Williams helped all other passengers reach the safety point. He was in better condition than rest. Till the time another helicopter came to the rescue, Williams had scummed due to cold water. He helped others without expecting any reward that is an inspiring act of altruism.
Various factors affect altruistic behaviour, and there are several reasons why individuals tend to practice it. An individual tends to engage in altruism as altruism activates reward centres in our brain. When an individual participates in acts of kindness and compassion, our brain starts some areas with a rewards system that reinforces such behaviour. Various studies show that an individual even gets influenced by their social norms, rules, and expectations. Even factors like socioeconomic status and religious norms directly influence altruistic behaviour. In a country like India, our culture tends to believe in the act of reciprocity. Hence, altruism can be seen as both selfish as well as a selfless act.
There are various benefits and impacts of altruism on our mental health. A few of those benefits are-
Increases empathy- An individual who regularly practices and engages in altruistic act tend to become more empathetic. Various research has also shown that when children develop their sense of empathy, they become more generous.
Better mental well-being- An individual who does good things for other people experience an increased happiness level. Various studies have suggested that helping others promotes multiple psychological changes in our brain linked with happiness. Altruism even helps in improving our self-esteem and makes us more active.
A better sense of belonging- An individual who tends to engage in philanthropic activities develops a better understanding of belonging as helping others. Volunteer work helps in connecting and engaging with new individuals. When an individual participates in acts of volunteering, then it helps in reducing their isolation as well as loneliness.
Better relationships- One of the effects of altruism is that an individual engaging in philanthropy tends to show two personality traits. The two personality traits are kindness and compassion. Various scientists have shown that most individuals who tend to have qualities like kindness tend to have better romantic relationships with their partners.
Reduces negative feelings- An individual engaging in altruism tends to experience relief in their negative emotions. This act happens when an individual sees another person in distress. They tend to help them and reduce their distress level, which even helps them reduce their negative feelings.
Better perspective- We often underestimate how different perspectives can have a significant impact on our lives. When an individual helps those who are less fortunate than themselves, they help get things into attitudes that make us feel positive and improve our well-being.
Suppose you wish to increase your altruistic behaviour. In that case, you can start by setting small goals like performing one small act of kindness every day. You can even try finding inspiration from individuals who engage in altruistic acts.