“The noblest act is that of making others happy.”— P.T. Barnum
Altruism is most commonly described as a selfless act that benefits solely the individual acted on. Research says that those who partake in altruistic acts regularly may be gaining more than their recipients.
One study performed by psychologist David McClelland at Harvard University observed students watching a film about Mother Theresa taking care of the sick and poor. Not only did watching this film exhibit feelings of compassion amongst the students, but there were physical improvements as well. McClelland found an increase in immunoglobin-A, an antibody which helps to fight infections, in their saliva afterwards. Another study was performed by James House at the University of Michigan, which concluded that philanthropic endeavors and interacting compassionately with others regularly increased life expectancy and vitality.
Studies show that participating in regular volunteer work can induce emotional benefits such as happiness, calming the mind, and decreased depression. One study revealed that 90% of individuals reported a euphoric, warm, and energetic high associated with their volunteer work. They also felt significantly calmer and a boost of self-esteem afterwards.
Compassion for others may even help reduce symptoms of anxiety. The Dali Lama describes the act of using motivation to reach goals and boost enthusiasm. In doing so we hope to strengthen wholesome behaviors, while resisting negative ones so that they die off. This will ultimately reshape your intrinsic motives from their current standard to that which is more kind and compassionate overall.
Written by GUADS intern Joe with contributions from psychologytoday.com.