What Does it Mean to Be Altruistic?

Most people, in some small way, do nice things for those around them on a regular basis. Whether it’s holding open the door for a stranger, exchanging pleasantries in an elevator, or buying someone a cup of coffee, we like to go a little out of our way to benefit the lives of others. However, it is much harder to maintain that level of kindness for a sustained period, even more so when you add in the element of selflessness. As difficult as this may sound, it is a reality for the people who have chosen to devote their existences to altruism and truly causing the most good that they can during their lives.

Altruism, by dictionary definition, is a belief set that promotes engagement in selfless practices that seek to improve the welfare of others; the opposite would be egoism. Altruism can perhaps be best understood by looking at some altruistic behaviors of the animal kingdom — take for example bird species that have a danger warning cry. In the event of danger, the birds closest to the predator will sound the alarm warning others while also giving up their positions, putting themselves in danger. Altruism is pure selflessness, where the altruistic person places the wellbeing of others above all else, even at the expense of personal safety.

In society, altruism and philanthropy are often spoken of interchangeably, but actually vary greatly. Consider philanthropy as a passion, something you do because you feel strongly about the lives of others and want to make a difference. On the other hand, altruism is more of a way of life, where the desire to be selfless and help others dictates your life and guides your path.  

The drive to be selfless influences what career altruists have, their home location, their lifestyles, and their salary, as their focus is outward rather than inward. Altruists are often driven towards high-impact, high salary careers, though unlike others they do not do it for the personal payout. The more they earn means the more they can donate or put toward causes they want to benefit; the more power and clout they accrue, the more leverage they have to make a difference.

Altruism is more than simply caring for others. It is more than helping out when you can and trying to remember to incorporate volunteering into your life once a year. Altruism is dedicating your life to being selfless and being constantly on the lookout for lives you can better and change you can effect.

Why People Choose to Give

Many people in this world seek some form of altruism — whether it’s helping someone cross the street or volunteering to build shelter for the homeless, every good deed that is done makes a little bit of a difference. It may seem strange to some people, the idea of giving something for nothing, but everyone has their own reasons for getting out there and helping out. Here are just a few of the reasons why people choose to get involved.

  • They want to make a difference.
    • A lot of influential activists can pinpoint the exact moment that changed their lives, the one that made them choose to take up their cause and begin to spread awareness about a certain issue. Maybe it was a conversation with a man who was homeless that made them realize they wanted to help those who couldn’t help themselves; maybe it was the first time they realized just how much trash was ending up in the oceans that caused them to work towards clearing our waters. Whatever reason people have for being active and involved, they’re hoping to inspire change and fix a wrong or bring an issue to light.
  • They want to give back.
    • Everybody falls on rough times once in a while — it’s just the circle of life. So when people who are used to being on the bottom and trying to fight their way to the top get a hand that helps them rise up, they’re going to appreciate the kindness, remember the gesture, and likely try to do the same for someone else that was done for them. Like the expression, “pay it forward,” some people are inspired by the help they were given during dark times and seek to help others as well.
  • It makes them feel good.
    • One of the most ‘selfish’ reasons why people volunteer is that they like how it feels when they help people. Studies have shown that giving to others causes the same hormones and chemicals to be released in the brain that are released when we eat junk food or do something pleasure. Further research and studies have shown the numerous health benefits that giving has on the giver, including lower blood pressure, less stress, and an overall increased sense of wellbeing.

Whatever the reason why people choose to give, the important thing is that they’re working to better their community and the lives of those around them. Look for ways you can start helping out in your local area and start giving back, too!