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  • Elements of Well-Being: Altruism

    What is Altruism?

    It is when a person acts to help another without looking for self-benefit. In other words, s/he acts to improve another’s welfare for the primary purpose of improving the other’s situation and without the hope or expectation of personal gain.

    Some research indicates that the first impulse of most people is to cooperate, which of course, has roots in evolutionary psychology. People who cooperated with others in their group had a much better chance of survival in an unpredictable and often violent world. Those are our ancestors and they survived by combining their efforts with those of others in their family/tribe/community. Most of us have a genetic heritage of cooperation, though there have certainly been other episodes throughout history.  In today’s world, each of us must balance the mutually competing desires of cooperation and our own self-interest.

    The challenge for all of us is how to inspire the angels of our better nature.

    Other research has shown that although toddlers are primarily self-focused, they quickly act to aid another animal or person when they see the other is in distress. Most youngsters have a sensitive and caring heart, despite the temper-tantrums and demanding behaviors. Non-human primates have been shown to behave in a similar fashion, demonstrating kind and caring behaviors to those in need. Further studies demonstrate that when an individual acts in an altruistic manner, their brain shows activity in the pleasure and reward centers in a way “similar to eating chocolate (or having sex), which, as we all know, can be very rewarding.

    What interferes with our original inclinations toward kindness and acting in ways to help others without the need for personal gain (altruism)?

    Scroll down and watch this 5 minute video by Phillip Zimbardo – The Truth about Good vs. Evil

    Then read the rest of the article to learn more about altruism.

    Read this article about the newer Battlestar Galactica and what it tells us about human tendencies of altruism.

    Finally, take this Altruism Quiz and discover whether you are a giver or a Grinch.