March 1, 2022

Ahhh…..Altruism….Sounds so Utopian!

Altruism is the behaviour characterized by acts of selfless concern for the well-being of others with no apparent benefit for the individual who performs them. 

  • It is defined as caring about other people and acting in someone else’s interest. It is an act of selflessness rather than selfishness.
  • A genuinely altruistic person identifies the one who needs their help, responds to them kindly and does their best to assist without expecting any reward in return, sometimes at the expense of their own convenience.
  • Altruism may be as simple as having intentional, sincere wishes for happiness and the very best that life can bring for another.
  • There can be no altruism if there is self-centeredness or self-gain involved. 
  • It requires that we always “self-check” your motives for possible selfish gain. 

Offering our seat to a pregnant woman or older person on a bus, volunteering in our community or helping in an emergency are all acts of altruism. 

Seemingly smaller acts of kindness and generosity throughout our day involving people at work, friends, family and strangers or; perhaps giving emotional support to a friend, relative, neighbour or spouse are all acts of altruism.

Unfortunately, the concept of altruism can get lost in society because of people’s stress levels, busyness and pressure. This is particularly found in the business world, to put oneself first at all costs. 

According to the Mental Health Association of Britain, evidence shows that helping others is beneficial for our mental health as it can improve our well-being.

Altruism is associated with better marital relationships, decreased hopelessness, less depression, increased physical health, and enhanced self-esteem.

Acts of giving to others help you feel fulfilled and energized. It brings a sense of belonging and reduces isolation between you and the person receiving your help. It frees you from being focused on your own problems and negative feelings. Studies on older people show that those who give support to others live longer than those who don’t.

Yes, there are skeptics of altruism. They say it is not possible to act in such a way without an underlying, selfish motive involved, even though it may be subtle and not apparent.

But, I think creating a positive feedback loop of generosity and happiness, no matter the reason, will make us want to do more in the future, creating a much lovelier world to live in!

A simple way to start your altruistic journey is to take a moment each day to send three people (could be a friend, family, stranger or even a perceived enemy) sincere wishes of happiness and the very best that life can offer. This could be continued throughout the day. 

To eliminate suffering and obtain happiness, the most important thing is to have a good heart.

In yoga, we recognize that Karma Yoga (selfless service to others) is the highest form of yoga. Something we all aspire to.