Updated: Nov 11, 2021
Altruism is the moral concern for the happiness of others without the expectation of a reward. Auguste Comte (not comté the cheese!) was the French philosopher who coined the word as an antonym for egoism. The act of selflessness is valued in many cultures.
Everyday examples can be as simple as helping an elderly person across the road or giving directions to a lost tourist. More interesting is the altruist who puts their life in danger, for example, to rescue someone from a fire or those who sheltered the Jews in World War II. Studies found that the more responsibility we feel towards the person in need, the more likely we are to help. Where there are more potential helpers, thus where responsibility is diffused, the less likely someone will intervene.
I'm not entirely convinced and think there are other drivers behind good deeds.
Why practice altruism?
Creates a sense of belonging: We feel more connected to others and less isolated. When we do something nice for someone, the recipient may do something nice for someone else; also known as the pay-it-forward principle.
Keeps things in perspective: Our expectations of life change when we help someone less fortunate. We feel more grateful and focus less on the things we lack.
Feels good: An act of kindness is food for the soul. We feel happier and see the world in a more positive light.
At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic when many struggled, we saw acts of kindness on the Internet and in the news. Neighbors helped the elderly with groceries and people donated food and other needed supplies.
As we approach the one-year anniversary of social restrictions due to the pandemic, do something nice for someone. Pick up the phone and say Hello to that friend whom you've not spoken to in a while, or let your family know how much you appreciate them today.