Self Improvement — 28 December 2014
Altruism is a Win-Win Formula

The Holiday Greetings often include wishes for a Healthy and Happy New Year. It is as if those physical and emotional states are bestowed upon us rather than enabled, in part, by our own efforts. Accessing our altruism can greatly enhance our wellbeing as we facilitate the lives of others.

Altruism is defined as “A devotion to others or humanity, as opposed to selfishness.”

Numerous researchers have documented the benefits of altruistic conduct.

Neurosurgeon James Doty, founder and director of the Center for Compassion and Altruism Research at Stanford University stated, “We know that as a species we flourish and thrive when we care for others.”

The Psychological Bulletin of August 2014 summarized findings of research published over the last 45 years that concluded, “Volunteering is associated with reduced symptoms of depression, better self-reported health, fewer functional limitations, and lower mortality.”

Dr. Stephen Post found that “Altruistic (other-regarding) emotions and behaviors are associated with greater well being, health, happiness and longevity. Conversely, excessive self-absorption is associated with higher stress levels.”

In “The Balance Within: the science connecting health and emotions” researcher Esther Sternberg found that “Altruistic emotions can gain dominance over anxiety and fear, turning off the fight–flight response.”

Allan Luks and Peggy Payne’s book “The healing Power of Doing Good” recites, “Two thirds of helpers report a distinct physical sensation associated with helping; about half report that they experienced a “high” feeling, whereas 43% felt stronger and more energetic, 28% felt warm, 22% felt calmer and less depressed, 21% experienced greater self-worth, and 13% experienced fewer aches and pains.”

With the abundance of research findings documenting the benefits of helping others for both the giver and the receiver, it is not surprising to find individuals of all ages delighting in being altruistic. Dr. Fricchione, Director of the Benson-Henry Institute of Mind and Body Medicine summarizes the benefits of altruistic conduct, “Choosing to be helpful to others is an important aspect of being a healthy, resilient, happy human being.” He adds, “Altruistic behaviors appear to benefit older adults by distracting them from preoccupation with their own problems, encouraging positive social relationships, enhancing morale, and promoting feelings of meaningfulness, self esteem, life satisfaction and well-being.”

One of several local organizations that practice altruism is Senior Outreach program run by Family Service Agency of the Central Coast that provides free in home visitation to elderly seniors by trained, compassionate volunteers. For many visited seniors, the peer counselor is the non-family trusted confidant who provides compassionate attention, caring human connection, companionship, a listening ear and sage advice, as needed. It is an experience in which two former strangers become bonded and aligned in trust, connection, caring and friendship as they enrich each other’s lives.

Practice altruism:

  • Understand that exhibiting kindness and concern for others enriches both the giver and the receiver.
  • Accept that helping others reduces your self-preoccupation, negative self-view and depression.
  • Appreciate that altruism enhances your psychological and physical wellbeing and extends your longevity.





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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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