Kindness and Altruism

There seem to be two kinds of altruism. Psychological altruism means being kind out of a concern for the welfare of others, while not thinking of your own self-interest. Biological altruism refers to behaviour that helps the survival of a species. Apparently, evolution has actually hard-wired philanthropic conduct into human beings. Perhaps humans are not just selfish or psychologically egoistical as some may propose? 

Recent research by the University of Michigan’s Institute for Social Research discovered that older people who are supportive to relatives, neighbours or friends, decrease their risk of dying early by nearly 60% compared to peers who aren’t supportive.

When we are kind, we are generous, helpful and considerate of other people’s feelings. In theory we are predisposed to being kind but how can we be kind in practice? You could:

  • Smile
  • Hold the door open
  • Give a genuine compliment
  • Thank someone you appreciate
  • Praise an achievement
  • Ask someone how they are feeling
  • Be a good listener
  • Offer your help to someone for no personal reward
  • Send a card to a friend spontaneously
  • Volunteer
  • Ask your neighbour if they need anything from the shops

These are just some suggestions, but I’m sure there are plenty of other altruistic actions.

It seems that most of us are driven to be kind, but is it good for us?

Dr. J. Andrew Armour, a leading neuro-cardiologist on the Institute of HeartMath’s Scientific Advisory Board, says, “By being altruistic we release hormones such as epinephrine (adrenaline) and dopamine, among others.”

“More recently it was discovered that the heart also secretes oxytocin when we are kind. Generally, these hormones really improve a sense of feeling good within. ”

What are the benefits of altruism?

  • Encourages emotional, physical, mental and spiritual health
  • Increases your self-esteem and confidence
  • Can help prolong your lifespan
  • Altruistic behaviour can inspire others to act similarly
  • Can make you feel appreciative and grateful
  • Creates richer friendships and relationships

Stephen Post, Ph.D., head of the Institute for Research on Unlimited Love, says about kindness, “States of joy and delight come from giving to others. It doesn’t come from any dry action – where the act is out of duty in the narrowest sense.” 

So, if you smile and say good morning you might brighten up someone’s day, and you’ll probably brighten up your own day as well. 

Try to be positive towards others and then try to be kind too. Don’t forget to be kind to yourself - self-care and self-kindness are just as important.

The theme for Mental Health Awareness Week (18-24 May 2020) is 'kindness' because of its singular ability to unlock our shared humanity.


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