Altruism refers to a quality possessed by people who exhibit an unselfish regard for the welfare of others and the desire to help them and such behavior is called altruistic behavior. Their focus is on things other than themselves. Altruism is derived from the French word autrui, meaning “other people.”

As there are two sides to every coin – being altruistic in nature has its pros and cons too, especially when practised beyond moderation.

  • Though this varies in accordance to each individual’s personality, being part of or coming across a sad or unfortunate situation may have more of a negative than a positive impact on the person who wants to help.
  • While giving beyond one’s resources is associated with stress, frustration and compassion fatigue resulting in worse mental health, the upsides to selfless acts are many.
  • It is important for a person to be mindful of their actions and take care of their needs too, as the saying goes ‘You cannot pour from an empty cup’.

However, in this case, the positives outweigh the negatives as studies suggest altruistic tendencies to be associated with better mental health.

The connect between altruism and physical health

Physical health and mental health have a strong correlation:Taking part in an altruistic activity induces the release of endorphins in the body which interact with receptors in the brain and reduce the perception of pain, helps feel focused, and triggers a positive feeling, causing the doer to experience a rush that is known as a ‘helper’s high’.

  • The act of by giving to another counters the self-focused nature of mental health issues like anxiety or depression and gives way for a person to experience positive emotions like kindness, joy, interest, appreciation and contentment.
  • Studies also suggest an increase in levels of oxytocin, which is responsible for human behaviours associated with relationships and bonding.
  • Oxytocin is also known as the cardioprotective hormone as it dilates the arteries thereby reducing blood pressure levels elevated due to stress, therefore contributing to better physical health.
  • Altruistic behaviour may also trigger the brain’s feel-good chemicals such as dopamine.
  • However, these hormonal benefits of a good deed may depend on the motive, genuine intent of the act of altruism. Research also shows that altruistic people are healthier and live longer.

Other benefits

Altruism promotes deeper positive social integration and creates a sense of belonging within a community and society at large.

  • People gain a sense of satisfaction from contributing to society and having made a difference.
  • Being altruistic eliminates self-absorbed views of entitlement and despair and replaces them with feelings of gratefulness, care and empathy.
  • Since it involves positive interactions with others, such acts also help boost one’s self-esteem, confidence and encourage an active and purposeful lifestyle as opposed to a passive, monotonous one.
  • Older people exhibit higher tendencies of altruism and desire to contribute to society in comparison to younger adults. Serving in communities helps combat loneliness and depression which may be prevalent within the elderly.

One act of kindness a day, a week, or even a month, will ultimately lead to a state of better emotional well-being and personal growth as it enhances mental as well as physical health at large and increases life satisfaction as a result.

— Written by Chaitra Suratkal