Altruism is the principle and moral practice of concern for happiness of other human beings or animals, resulting in a quality of life both material and spiritual.
I am lucky to know a lot of altruistic people. People who give their time, their energy, their experience and their resource for free.
I am lucky to know a lot of people who are light-bearers. People who shine a light, who share the light and who light up others with their presence.
“Every man must decide if he will walk in the light of creative altruism or in the darkness of destructive selfishness”.
Martin Luther King
So what are the traits of an altruistic person?
1) They put others first.
2) They think about how their actions will affect others.
3) They feel good after helping someone.
4) They are proactive.
5) They possess and display a healthy degree of self-confidence.
How altruistic are we as individuals? How altruistic are the people around us as a collective? How many of these altruistic people do we take for granted?
It is human nature for us to be selfless and to want to help others, but some people lose this and become selfish in their behaviours and self-centered in their thinking. In psychology altruism is also referred to as ‘cooperative behavior’, this way of being enabled our ancestors to survive under harsh conditions.
Cooperative behaviour is the interaction of two or more people or organisations directed toward a common goal which is mutually beneficial. An act or instance of working or acting together for a common purpose or benefit, i.e. joint action.
In today’s highly complex society, altruism still serves a purpose. In fact I have noticed that people have become more altruistic during the period of lockdown. People have thought less about themselves and more about others. The sense of community and a collective endeavour, a shared experience, has returned, for now at least.
“Altruism nourishes humanity and turns a beast (man) into a human”.
People who are altruistic do it because they are in service of others. Their kindness comes from a conviction that it is the right thing to do. There is not an ulterior motive. The acts can often go unnoticed and unthanked, but the ‘gift’ was not gifted with that as an intent.
Our society has become driven by transactions. If someone does something for the sake of doing it, it can be questioned as to their motive. There is an expectation that in giving there is something to take back in exchange.
So what are the rewards?
There are emotional benefits of being altruistic. Humans behave altruistically because it is emotionally rewarding. Even when we don’t expect recognition or reward for a good deed, we often feel energized and happy afterward. This sensation is sometimes called a ‘helper’s high’ or a ‘warm glow’. The emotional response helps to reinforce altruistic behavior in those who feel it.
“Altruism is the best source of happiness, there is no doubt about that”.
There can also, ironically, be financial benefits!
Studies suggest that altruists may reap unexpected financial benefits from their kindness because others will feel compelled to reward their kindness; other research has found that donating money to charity might make organisations more valuable.
Over the years, I have gifted a lot of my time. I have organised events, I have spoken at events, I have self-funded my travel, I have supported my network, I have been a listening ear, I have checked letters of applications, I have prepped people for interviews, I have hosted coaching circles.
I do these things, because they help others and because others have done them for me. I pass the gift of a helping hand, a shoulder to cry on or to stand on, a listening ear, on to others who will benefit from it.
I don’t do any of these things to receive anything back, but my kindness is often rewarded with further kindness. I am touched regularly when I receive surprises in the post – cards, gifts and flowers – as thank yous from people I have helped along the way.
Some of my favourite messages are from people who I have never met, people who have reached out to say thank you for something I have said or done, which has impacted them, without me even knowing it.
I often get push back from people in my life that I am too generous with my time and my energy, that I give too much away for free, but I am not going to stop being me. However, my relationship with time, money and energy is different now I am not salaried, and I am exploring this tension as I navigate my new journey.
I want to be in service to others, I want to continue to give and support, but I also need to balance earning a living!
“The root of happiness is altruism – the wish to be of service to others”.
Being happy, being altruistic, being in service are all drivers in me for the work I do. I am committed to empowering others to empower themselves and to pass the feeling of empowerment on to others.
I will finish with one of my favourite quotes from one of my favourite writers and role models.