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Altruism and how it can improve one’s wellbeing

(Illustration: Jordan News)
Human beings are social by nature. What this means is that starting with our early ancestors, we have been forming groups that resulted in civilizations and societies all over the world. In order to form a society, individual members of a group cannot be selfish. At times, they must do things in order to benefit and improve the collective, regardless of the personal cost. This is known as altruism, and although it may lead to an individual being taken advantage of by selfish individuals, it has allowed our species to flourish and thrive. Despite no longer needing altruism for survival purposes, practicing it still has many benefits to both individual and community.اضافة اعلان

What is altruism?
Altruism has many definitions, depending on the context. Generally speaking, altruism is the act of helping another despite the risk it may pose to an individual’s self. The motivation for this action comes from a place of wanting to help and not from a sense of obligation of duty, religion, or loyalty. Such actions and behavior happen without an expectation of reward.

Types of altruism
In this definition of altruism lies a paradox. It could be argued that no one can act altruistically since there is some “selfish” reason for acting a certain way, either for personal satisfaction or because one would feel bad if not acting that way. As a result, many psychologists have collectively identified different types of altruistic behavior.

Genetic altruism
Genetic altruism refers to altruistic behavior done specifically for family members. The common example of this is the behavior a parent engages in with their child. Parents will sacrifice countless things from their life in order to properly provide for their child. This type of altruism does not have to apply strictly to the immediate family, it can also apply distant relatives.

Reciprocal altruism
Reciprocal altruism is likely one of the most practiced. It is a give-and-take relationship developed by individuals. In essence, it is helping someone so that one day they may return the favor. Although one gets something in return, it is still considered altruism because an individual should not be expecting anything in return, but instead encouraging the other individual to act more altruistically in the future.

Group-selected altruism
Group-selected altruism is similar to genetic altruism. In this case, it is based on group affiliation, which could be based on friendship, religion, culture, etc. This is considered to one of the original types of altruism, along with genetic altruism, since it is applicable to smaller communities or tribes.
Parents will sacrifice countless things from their life in order to properly provide for their child.
Pure altruism
Pure altruism is also known as moral altruism. It is the closest form of true altruism that humans can obtain. It is based on morals and values that enable an individual to help a perfect stranger regardless of risk, group affiliation, or reward. Examples of this type are usually highlighted on the news, like when someone saves a stranger heroically.

Why do we act altruistically?
Psychologists have many theories about why we act altruistically. A prominent theory is that of natural selection specifically relating to genetic altruism. Genetics play a role in behavior and emotions such as empathy, kindness, cooperativeness, and altruism. Those that have those traits take better care of their children and are more likely to have their offspring reproduce. Furthermore, altruism is considered a prosocial behavior, which means that it helps benefit the collective. This would allow for individuals to better fit in the society and improve their odds of survival.

Benefits of altruism
Although acting in an altruistic manner can come at the cost of the individual, there are many benefits to acting unselfishly. Altruism does not have to be grand acts that put one’s life at risk. They can be simple acts, like giving money to someone in need or helping someone carry things.

The greatest benefit of altruism is the effect it has on one’s wellbeing. A 2004 study conducted on individuals suffering from multiple sclerosis (MS) found that those who helped support others with MS experienced greater benefits than those they were helping, in terms of confidence, self-awareness, depression, self-esteem, and daily functioning.

All these traits can help to positively improve the emotional wellbeing. Similarly, altruistic behavior also helps improve the social wellbeing. By being altruistic to others, you help foster the concept of community and further build a social support group and sense of belonging.

Lastly, altruism can act as a form of stress relief. Many studies have shown that altruism is often associated with positive feelings that can improve one’s mood and reduce stress.

Concerns relating to altruism
Altruism comes with many benefits, but there are also potential harmful consequences involved. By its very nature, altruism comes with a risk to the individual. This can be at a health, social, psychological, or financial cost. Furthermore, although the intentions may be good, the outcome has the potential to be bad for the other person. Similarly, it could cause focus to be shifted on one cause while neglecting others. As a result, it is important to consider all outcomes of your actions and help find a balance. Although these actions are often spontaneous, taking a couple of seconds to reflect on the outcomes to yourself and the other person involved can help minimize these risks.
It is quite simple to be altruistic. It begins with small actions. First, start helping those closest to you and see where it takes you.
How to become more altruistic
It is quite simple to be altruistic. It begins with small actions. First, start helping those closest to you and see where it takes you. Even helping family and friends has benefits. From there, you can expand to helping those in your community. These small actions do not even have to be directly done to an individual. It can be as simple as picking up trash in your area. This one action helps decrease the workload for those who clean the streets, keeps your community clean, and can improve your wellbeing.

For those who might find it harder to find a place to begin, there are additional tips that might help. You can start by finding inspiration in a person or a cause. Seeing others participate in altruistic acts helps motivate you to join their cause. From there, it can then work to applying it to your daily life.

In addition to inspiration, empathy can be a powerful tool to help you get started. By practicing empathy, you can build connections with others and see struggles firsthand. Once you have placed yourself in other people’s shoes, you may be better able to come up with problem-solve solutions and provide help to others. It may be a conscious action at first, but with time and practice you will begin to apply it subconsciously.

Lastly, setting a goal can help you become conscious of your actions and decisions. It may help you find ways to randomly perform acts of kindness toward others. No matter how seemingly insignificant your act of kindness might be, it could have a serious positive impact on the recipient.

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