Your colleague needs support and you instinctively lend a hand. Someone trips on the sidewalk and you help them up. You're generous - or stingy - when it comes to appeals for donations. How unselfishly do you act in everyday life? Do you have the good of others in mind, or are you more selfish? Altruism is a good thing. You feel it in those moments when you don't even think about it. By the way, true altruism has nothing to do with moral superiority.
What is altruism?
At the Definition of altruism, concepts such as altruistic behavior, selflessness and helpfulness come into play. A person acts for the benefit of others - thus altruism is the antithesis of egoism. This is because egoists think only of their own benefit, while altruists are restrained, even in today's competitive society.
Why is altruism so important in our society?
Altruism is indispensable for a functioning community. This is particularly evident when dealing with people in need. Survival of the fittest sounds like a good saying, but it's not exactly fair: social commitment will get you further in many areas.
You show social responsibility, for example, through volunteer work and everyday helpfulness. At first glance, such good deeds do not bring you any profit. Often you even sacrifice something for it - your free time or part of your possessions. Nevertheless, you feel good about it, because the countervalue of altruism shows itself in an improved reputation. Appreciation plays a significant role in your well-being.
Some benefactors put themselves in the spotlight: You can do without such feigned altruism. Authentic commitment needs no honor: The true altruists are really only concerned with the welfare of others.
How is altruism expressed in different cultures?
In the Forms of altruism the different motivations and origins of the altruistic attitude become apparent. The Western world, for example, relies on the Categorical Imperative, that is, on the voice of conscience. Depending on upbringing and individual attitude, compassion and benevolence influence more or less altruistic action.
Meanwhile, more and more people are becoming aware of their own gratitude. This leads them to want to let others share in their positive feelings. This is precisely what gives rise to the desire to help others - quite altruistically.
In the best case, altruistic actions serve not only the interests of other people, but also self-interest. However, not all consequences of altruistic decisions can be predicted.
Those who live a comfortable life may want to realize themselves through their good deeds. In poorer cultures, on the other hand, it's about common survival. For more security, the community moves together.
Richer countries offer volunteer work for support or help with donations and charity. In other regions, there is great poverty: Here, altruism can provide more justice - but sometimes also an extreme power imbalance.
Can altruism be learned?
An altruistic attitude needs a certain empathy, but it can be trained and strengthened. Want to develop more altruism? The Action for Happiness shows Training opportunities for more compassion. Start with simple exercises and work your way forward:
- Hold the door open for other people,
- get into the habit of a friendly greeting even for strangers,
- offer your help when carrying a heavy bag,
- listen attentively when someone complains about their suffering,
- look for a volunteer activity that suits you.
How is altruism viewed in science?
The scientific perspective deals on the one hand with the biological side and on the other hand with the psychology of altruism.
Biology shows that not only humans act altruistically, but also animals. To protect a herd, an animal puts itself in danger - this behavior is related to the so-called kin selection.
Altruistic people sometimes act selfishly in disguise: they do good things to make themselves feel better. Science also assumes that humans are naturally geared towards community. Mutual help increases acceptance and recognition. That's why you feel Satisfactionwhen you have helped someone.
Which famous people are known for their altruism?
Mother Theresa is considered a good Example for altruism. Without visible reciprocation, she worked for the poor and the sick. But she herself emphasized how grateful her own sacrifice made her. So was there a little egoism behind it after all?
The Dalai Lama says that compassion is innate - but also that it can be trained.
Famous and unknown people show how simple charity can be. When celebrities like Bill Gates and Richard Gere do good deeds, the whole world knows about it. But there are also people right next to you who exemplify altruism. It's even contagious, just like Gandhi said: You make the world a little better with selfless acts of charity.
Altruism in practice: real-life examples
Moral altruism, willingness to help out of sympathy or rational consideration: The examples of altruism are manifold.
- On your way to work, you see someone stumble and fall: instinctively, you help them get back on their feet.
- When you have a business dinner together, you like to tip a little more: on the one hand, to look good, on the other hand, because you want to reward the waitress.
- The colleague is still working on his hard work and pulling his hair out. You join him and support him energetically - it just works better as a team.
- Doctors without Borders are active in many crisis areas. They usually earn considerably less than other doctors. But they know that they are exactly where they are needed.
- In the global context, measures to protect the environment and act responsibly are also part of rational altruism. Reducing plastic waste, saving electricity - depending on how you look at it, this can also be altruistic.
Can altruism go too far?
Those who sacrifice themselves completely to a cause often do not see the danger in it. One's own needs are also important. Depending on the respective Motives for altruism this can lead to financial or health problems.
Altruism out of religious conviction is not necessarily a bad thing, but too much compassion and charity upset the healthy balance. It is quite possible for altruistic people to become absorbed in their faith. In the case of cults, however, this attitude becomes problematic.
Selflessness in relationships and families can also be a kind of self-realization. Then there is a risk that the self-sacrificing people will become bondage.
With a good balance between altruism and detachment, you avoid falling into the helper syndrome. Say no once in a while when you can't. Don't burden yourself with too much.
How can you promote altruism in your own life?
A positive attitude is enormously important for your personal development. Good to know: You can train empathy and altruism. In this way, you can act cooperatively in everyday situations and build trust. Most of the time you get something back: This reciprocity is called reciprocal altruism.
What do you want your life to look like? Who do you want to be? And how do you want your life to feel? If you are looking for answers to these questions, the Visions Challenge Workbook by Christina and Walter Hommelsheim is your guide to your future. In it, our Greator coach trainers accompany you with profound methods and meditations on a path to becoming the active designer of your life. By sharpening your vision, you sustainably determine what you experience and attract exactly what you want into your life.
The workbook also helps you to recognize your altruistic or selfish attitude. Become more aware of yourself and your surroundings and check whether your behavior is okay. It is worthwhile to change something - so be helpful and fair.