What Is The Definition Of Altruism?
By Julia Thomas
Updated December 11, 2018
Reviewer Tanya Harell
Altruism is a concept that you may have heard of, but you may not know exactly what it is. In this post, we're going to look into the definition of altruism, the concept of it, and much more.
What Is Altruism?
Altruism is also known as selflessness. It's when you're devoted to caring for others, usually those who have it worse than you do. Acts of altruism could include feeding the homeless, helping someone who fell, donating your goods to charity.
Acts of altruism are selfless which means that you aren't doing it for yourself in the hopes you'll get something out of it. You don't help a homeless person because you want to be hailed as a hero, but instead, you do it because you show empathy at their suffering. Altruism usually comes in the form of some loss to you. If you give money away, you have less money. If you take time to help someone, you lost some time that could have been spent towards yourself.
Many of us have done an altruistic act, but some of us have more altruism than others. Some are programmed to be more altruistic, while others are more selfish.
Altruism: The Principle Of Many Beliefs
Altruism is something that is present in many societies, cultures, religions, and beliefs. Religion especially carries the belief in altruism. Jesus teaches about altruism and how you should love your neighbor as much as you love yourself. Buddhism teaches that compassion helps the suffering of others. Hinduism puts altruism as one of the best acts you can do.
Even if you're nonreligious, altruism is still a principle that you may believe in. The golden rule of treating others the way you want to be treated rings across all belief systems. We are creatures that can put ourselves in a different perspective. We see someone suffering, and we imagine ourselves in their position. We feel upset for them, and thus try to offer anything we have to make it better.
Altruism In Animals
You may wonder if altruism is just a human trait, or if it's present as well. Animals tend to run on survival instinct, so it would be unusual if some animals helped others with no benefit. An animal parent is going to help their child, but again, survival reasons.
With that said, there are a few animals who exhibit altruism.
The dolphin helps those who are injured. They may push other dolphins to the surface so that they can get some air.
Walruses may adopt baby walruses who have lost their parents.
African buffalo may try to rescue other buffalo that have been captured by their predators.
Raccoon tells other raccoons about places to eat.
These are just a few examples. Some animals appear to do it to benefit their entire heard and helped them survive, while others may do it out of what appears to be good. Remember that we used to be more like the other animals, and we evolved to be more altruistic. As these animals evolve, perhaps we'll see more examples of them being more altruistic to their fellow species.
Health Benefits Of Altruism
Altruism has quite a few health benefits, including…
- Giving you a sense of belonging. Everyone wants a place they can fit in with, and altruism gives you a reason and possibly a group you can associate with.
- Altruism can stimulate the parts of your brain that have to do with happiness. Altruism can increase your endorphin level, which is a feel-good chemical in your brain. If you want to be happier, altruism may be able to help you.
- Altruism can reduce any lonely feelings you may have. Instead of being cooped up by yourself, you are outside helping others.
- Altruism can remind you how lucky you are when it comes to your life. You may feel like your life isn't the best, but helping the less fortunate, it puts your life into perspective.
- Altruism can have many health benefits. Not only can it reduce your levels of stress, but it can strengthen your immune system, reduce the number of negative feelings you have with yourself, and may help you to live longer.
- Volunteering and doing altruistic tasks looks good on any job resume.
- Finally, it just feels good to do. Sometimes, you don't need an elaborate reason to do something to help others; if you're altruistic because you believe it will help you, that's not how it works. Getting benefits is a nice reward, but it should not be the end goal.
How To Be More Altruistic
So, you want to be more altruistic? Good! Here are a few steps to get you started.
- First, you shouldn't do it for yourself. This is an obvious one, but too many people have some sort of ulterior motive when being altruistic. Some people help a person so they can brag about it on social media and get validation from their friends. Others hope that someone they like will notice them. As we said, rewards can be nice but don't force them.
- Think of a cause you're interested in. One of the best ways to become more altruistic is to do something you love. For example, if you love cooking, why not cook a few dishes for the hungry and give them away? If you're joining a cause that doesn't interest you, then your altruism isn't authentic and may not be as good as it can be. Remember that even the silliest cause can make a difference. Not everyone has to be the person who travels to a third world country and gives the villagers water.
- Be humble. This goes hand in hand with us saying not to brag about your altruism. Being too overconfident can backfire on you, and no one wants that.
- Try to practice empathy and put yourself in the shoes of those who are less fortunate. You don't have to go so far that you're living among them, but you can be able to imagine yourself in perspective of someone else.
Here are some activities you can do to make yourself more altruistic.
- Volunteer at a homeless shelter. Help feed the homeless and get them back on their feet.
- Work at an animal shelter. Help the furry ones find their own home.
- Ask what you can do to help your friends and family. You don't have to reach far to practice altruism.
- Do community services. Clean up after the community, advocate for change in your town, ask people what changes they'd like to see, and much more.
- Help someone who has fallen, or helps someone cross the street. With that said, if someone has severe injuries, do not try to handle them. Consult a medical professional.
- Advocate for a worldwide political change. In person can make all the difference in the world.
Can Too Much Altruism Be A Bad Thing?
We all know someone who is completely selfish. They never care about the suffering of others and do not help even those they are close to. However, we may know someone who is the opposite. They are always concerned with the suffering of others and would do anything to help. Is there such a thing as too much altruism?
Anything can be bad in extreme quantities, and altruism is no exception. First, a person is never going to end all suffering. Since the dawn of life, there has been suffering. A person may become overwhelmed or depressed by the fact that they can't help anyone.
Also, an overly altruistic person may not take some time to take care of themselves. They may not look at their health or finances, and this can lead to some troubles. Also, some altruistic people may be more prone to being used.
There needs to be a balance. Helping others is good, but sometimes you need to help yourself too.
If you're trying to be altruistic, a counselor can help you. They can teach you quite a few valuable skills of altruism. You can figure out what cause best suits you, learn how you can make a plan to be more altruistic, and make sure you aren't too stressed out over altruism.
A counselor can also determine how altruistic you are, to begin with. Sometimes, you may feel like you're selfish, but as it turns out, you're quite altruistic. Sometimes, the opposite is true. It all depends on a few factors. Sometimes, we're so confident and have such big egos that we don't realize we're harming. Other times, we have low self-esteem and don't realize just how much we are doing for others.
If you're ready to be more altruistic, a counselor may be what you need. Speak to one today, and begin to learn.