The Science Behind Altruism and Why Being a Good Person Makes You Happier


Everyone knows it feels good to help others. Charity work often comes to mind, whether it be a donation of money or your services. But there are lots of opportunities for altruism in your everyday life, too. Simply holding the door open for someone carrying a load of groceries is enough to give you an instant mood booster.

The feel-good vibes from being a good neighbor aren’t just a fluke. Science has proven that acts of altruism make you happy and increase your overall well-being when formed into a habit. A life dedicated to helping others comes with several health benefits and could even make you live longer!

But remember, altruism is all about helping those in need in a selfless way. The promise of a long, happy life may not come true if you pursue altruism for the wrong reasons. Acts of kindness must be intended for the benefit of others, not ourselves.

It’s the thought that counts

We all want the world to be a better place. Despite our good intentions, it’s easier to come up with reasons for putting acts of service on hold. Perhaps you’ve been meaning to drop a couple bucks in that Salvation Army bucket during the holidays but always forget to grab cash from the ATM first? Or maybe procrastination has stopped you from volunteering at the local food pantry?

Don’t feel bad! The good news is, committing yourself to a life of altruism is the first step towards happiness. One study has shown that merely contemplating a kind gesture can make you feel good. And you’ll feel even better after the gesture is complete.

Half of the participants were given money to spend on themselves while the others were asked to spend it on someone else. Before the two groups bought anything, scientists interviewed the participants to monitor their brain activity. Their findings concluded the altruistic group was more likely to associate their purchases with happiness.

Small gestures make a huge impact

Acts of kindness that seem insignificant are better than nothing at all. You may feel pressured to buy an extravagant gift for someone’s birthday or do something big like organize a fundraising event for your school. Guilt can overshadow your good deeds if you’re convinced friends, family, and peers are more altruistic than you.

Extravagant birthday gifts and fundraising events are very generous. However, you can achieve the same level of happiness for something much smaller. Researchers from the study mentioned above discovered the amount of money spent on others didn’t matter. Whether the purchase was big or small, gift givers experienced the same levels of happiness.

What’s in it for me?

Further research is needed to determine whether ulterior motives tarnish the gift giver’s happiness. Scientists from the study are guessing they might. Altruism requires selflessness and knowing our actions are for the benefit of others. If you expect something in return, altruism becomes a transaction.

Acts of service should come from the kindness in our hearts, not from the motivation to get what we want. The smile on someone’s face is the reward for offering a kind gesture. Praise and returned favors are byproducts for a good deed but definitely not the reasons we do it.

Sometimes we feel obligated to return the favor when a loved one offers to buy lunch or shows up with an unexpected gift. On the flip side, we may get carried away with counting likes on a social media post that publicizes our volunteer efforts at a homeless shelter. Hold on to those happy vibes, and everything else is considered a bonus.

Altruism is a habit

Researchers aren’t sure how long happiness lasts after completing acts of altruism. However, you can make the happiness last a lifetime by turning altruism into a habit. People who are kind to others on a regular basis experience greater well-being and enjoy physical health benefits such as lower blood pressure. In fact, some studies have revealed generosity can produce the same results as medication!

Altruistic life styles correlate to a higher life expectancy, too. Happiness can reduce stress and protect you from developing chronic health problems. So even though altruism is supposed to be selfless, it definitely comes with a bit of incentive.

The next time you’re feeling down, think about how you can brighten someone’s day. You’ll be surprised to discover that taking care of others is the best way to take care of yourself!

Abhishek Chauhan

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