From volunteering your time to donating money, calls for altruism seem to be a core part of society yet it might be unclear what that means? And if altruism is an action, is there more that we should be doing? Today we’re uncovering the roots of altruism and how we can live out that value.
What is Altruism?
Altruism, at its core, is the unselfish desire to compassionately improve things for other people (or causes). Synonyms of altruism are things like being morally good and virtuous, while the direct opposite of altruism is to act with selfish intention and disregard for those around you.
A desire for altruism in your life may feel a bit obvious, yet it’s not always so straightforward in understanding how it may play into your life and what altruism could look like for you.
3 Reasons You Should Focus on Altruistic Living
Doing good feels good
For yourself, those around you and those that are supported by your positive action, doing good just feels good! Your emotional and physical centers in your brain are activated when you express kindness without any expectations. Altruism plays on that side of your hardwired reward system.
There is micro and macro good that comes from operating this way. People who are surrounded by positive action and affirming reinforcement through community and choices are often more likely to trust themselves as well as the world around them. Doing good for others is a meaningful way to feel positive about your contribution to the world, and also let others’ victories fuel your own growth.
Altruism builds community
There are many ways we come together with other people to support a single idea. Altruism is a foundational community builder. Working toward a cause that means something to you has a beautiful way of uniting people. Whether that idea is stretching our bodies and spirits in a yoga class, giving blood, or volunteering to build houses, there are infinite ways to create community through a desire to do meaningful good.
Community groups focused on a cause that is directly rooted in your altruistic beliefs has a positive impact that’s wide-reaching. Within you, this blossoming community can help to feel your holistic self spiritually awakening a depth of purpose you may have lost touch with, and practically helping you move toward that purpose.
Beyond you, community altruism effectively increases the reach and benefit for your fellow community members and those who are supported by your effort. Community efforts help to ensure your altruism is effective, influential, and purposeful.
It can be anything you want it to be
Altruism is a specific theme and way of being, but there is no specific way of effectively engaging with altruism. No matter what your skill set, there is a way for it to help you flourish in incorporating altruism into your lifestyle. If you’re a creative thinker, a prolific artist, or a shrewd business person- altruism has room for you. Empower yourself to use your skills creatively.
Your talents and unique way of being will come in handy with purposeful and direct ways to engage in making the world a softer and more supportive place. While that’s happening, you’ll also benefit from seeing new ways to engage your skills; it will broaden your perspective and maybe even your mind!
Are there risks to being altruistic?
There are risks to everything we choose to engage in throughout our lives and altruism is no exception. Two of the main risks in altruism are causing unintended harm to others, and compassion fatigue.
Causing harm is never the intention of someone who is seeking to do good and improve the world for the causes you care about, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen. Be mindful of the impact that follows your intent to mitigate this risk.
Empathy burnout happens when you take no time for yourself to refuel your own tank. When you are practicing altruism, it is critical that you also cultivate a self-care practice that is both meaningful and impactful for you. There are many ways to develop your self-care practice and few ways to get it wrong – the important part is just that you do.
3 ways to practice altruism in your life
Offer no-strings-attached help (and mean it)
Pay for someone’s drink, offer someone advice they ask for, or consult on a project that’s trying to get off the ground and can’t afford your services.
When you extend your hand to help pull someone else into new spaces, do so without cuffing them to the expectations that you hold. Commit your help without expecting anything in return. There are no conditions on this – not on manners, response, or responsibility.
Speak sincerely and with compassion to others
Offering authentic kindness to others is a balm to the soul of both speaker and listener. Offer words that mean something to someone in your life today, and let them sit with those words as encouragement and affirmation. No matter how confident someone looks, you may be surprised to learn the internal fights they’ve braved to reach that space. Sincere recognition of their energy is a beautiful way to offer altruism on a personal basis.
Be intentional with the causes you advocate for
While a good cause is a wonderful thing, not all good causes are organized the same way. When you are supporting an organization or a person who shares your views, take time to do a critical study of their culture and impact. Ensuring you align with the way they go about achieving their results and how their actions impact people is an important part of ensuring that your contribution is truly doing the good you’re intending.
Go forth and engage with the world, and your altruistic side, in whatever authentic way feels empowering for you today. Explore our inspiration page for other experts we admire sharing their thoughts on altruism.
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