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BEYOND BODY

Lending a Helping Hand

"Altruism and its Benefits"
By: Ericka PingolLending a Helping Hand

An average Filipino can surely sing all the words to Jose Marie Chan’s “Christmas in Our Hearts.” It can be said that when we start hearing this song, the Christmas season in the Philippines has begun.  “And may the spirit of Christmas be always in our hearts”, it says; the spirit of giving and of kindness are the essence of Christmas. Although, these may be felt throughout the year as it should be, the Holiday season stands out as a time to pay it forward, be it in small or big ways.

Helping a person to cross the street, or carry his or her things may seem like such simple acts of kindness; but the words “thank you” from the person we’ve helped is enough to make our day and make our hearts feel warm and positive.  However, little did most of us know, altruism is more beneficial than we think.

Right back at you

Altruism involves the unselfish concern for other people. It involves doing things simply out of desire to help, not because you feel obligated to out of duty, loyalty, or religious reasons.

Being an active and passionate helpers (ie community work, volunteering, etc.) may be physically stressful, but there is a growing body of research that suggests the upsides of altruism may outweigh the negatives (particularly if helpers go into it being mindful of the risks and taking steps to protect themselves from compassion fatigue), according to Psychology Today.

Some of the benefits, as listed by Mental Health Foundation, associated with helping others are:

It promotes positive physiological changes in the brain associated with happiness. Giving to others releases endorphins which then activate parts of our brain that are associated with trust, pleasure and social connection. Being altruistic and spending money on others leads to greater levels of happiness compared to when you spend money on yourself.

It brings a sense of belonging and reduces isolation. Being a part of a social network leads to feelings of belonging and being altruistic can reduce stress levels.

It helps to keep things in perspective. Helping others in need, especially those who are less fortunate than yourself, can provide a sense of perspective and can make one realize how lucky they are and help them achieve a more positive outlook on things that they otherwise see as a cause of stress.

It reduces stress and improves our health. Evidence suggests that altruism can boost our health. Emotions which are related to altruism such as compassion may help stabilize the immune system against immunosuppressing effects of stress.

It helps reduce negative feelings. People who are altruistic have better life adjustment overall and tend to see life as more meaningful. Altruism is associated with better marital relationships, a decreased sense of hopelessness, less depression, increased physical health, and enhanced self-esteem.

              It can help us live longer. Studies on older people show that those who give support to others live longer than those who don’t.

Taking it up a notch

There are countless ways to help other people; even a small amount of kindness can make a difference. However, if you’ve been wanting to make a bigger difference in other people’s lives, and in the world there are plenty of opportunity for you to do so.  You can volunteer for NGOs, do community service or do a fund-raising activity. Nevertheless, it is important to always think what cause you’re most passionate about or what skills you have that can be beneficial to your cause. Here are some factors to consider when doing altruist works, as listed by The Conversation:

Do what you enjoy and excel at. The idea that we should work for or contribute to the most effective charity, regardless of what we care about, is self-defeating. Most people’s passions aren’t that flexible – they can’t or won’t start caring about a cause simply because a calculation tells them to. Better to follow a passion than be demotivated.

Spread the love. If you really are passionate about a cause, encourage others. If they are not passionate about your cause, encourage them to help others in their own way. We can do more to improve the world if we get other people to help out.

Use carrots rather than sticks. To encourage people to do better, we should be generous with praise for those who do more good than is common and add more praise for those near the top. 

Avoid overconfidence.  Really effective altruism aims to do the most good over all time. The world, present and future, is a very uncertain place. It is difficult to predict what will do the most good, either now or far in the future. 

However, small or big of an effort we make, it is certain that our kindness will benefit, not just the people we help, but our health and overall well-being, too!

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