We have often heard that it is better to give than to receive. And it turns out that this claim is more concrete that we may have thought. There is now a growing body of research indicating that an altruistic disposition can vastly improve our overall quality of life.In this post, we will look at the practice and benefits of altruism, before learning how to cultivate this virtuous mindset.
What is altruism?
Altruism is a selfless concern for the wellbeing of others and can most helpfully be viewed as a practice. Simply put, the practice of altruism involves acting out of kindness in our thoughts, words and actions without expectation of personal gain.
What are the benefits of altruism?
The Dalai Lama summed up altruism perfectly in the following quote: “If you want others to be happy, practice compassion. If you want to be happy, practice compassion”.
Modern science agrees with this sentiment and has shown that an altruistic mindset that incorporates qualities such as empathy and kindness:·
Enhances our emotional wellbeing
Predicts greater levels of physical health
Indicates success in our social and working lives
Positively change how we view ourselves and others
Inspires us and others to be kinder and less cynical
The bottom line is that altruism promotes, happiness, health and resilience.
How to develop altruism?
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, altruism can be accurately described as a skill. And just like the skill of optimism, self-esteem, guitar playing, power snatching etc, it can be developed with practice.
To cultivate this skill and reap the benefits of altruism, we will focus on one research-based exercise called ‘5 Kind Acts’. The steps for this exercise are as follows:
1. Choose a set day that you intend to perform ‘5 Kind Acts’ on a weekly basis (5 kind acts in one day, boosts happiness more than single sporadic acts)
2. Consider and reflect on the activities you aim to do beforehand. For example:
Tell someone that you appreciate them
Check in on an isolated or vulnerable neighbour
Smile and say hello to a stranger
3. As you engage in these activities it is important to:
Approach them selflessly, without expectation of personal gain
Engage with them cheerfully and whole-heartedly
Let go of any negative judgements towards those you are helping
Give your full attention to those you are helping (eye contact, listen etc)
Look after yourself and don’t overdo it!
It’s as simple (and as difficult) as that! All you need to do is genuinely and consistently commit to this practice.
The benefits that may arise when we focus on the welfare of others can be seen as a by-product of our actions and not the goal. Our job is simply to do our best and see what happens!