Why it Pays to be Nice

Research indicates that altruism is deeply rooted in human nature, and that helping others thrive assures the continued survival of the human race.

This may explain why kids are naturally altruistic, and why even very young children tend to be helpful and cooperative, usually without any expectation of reward.

People who learn to cultivate altruism reap a wealth of benefits, including richer, healthier, more satisfying lives. Here’s how:

Why Should You be Altruistic?

  • Doing good deeds can make you healthier. Studies indicate that people who volunteer to help others experience an improvement in aches and pains, decreased depression, lower stress levels and better overall health. This holds true even for people with serious or chronic illnesses. The benefits of altruism carry into the later years and older people who help others may actually enjoy longer lives.
  • Altruism can make you feel good. In fact, recent studies suggest that helping others prompts chemical reactions in the brain’s pleasure center, thus triggering euphoric feelings much like those associated with use of drugs and alcohol.
  • Altruism can even help us attract a life partner. In fact, many people consider kindness and generosity as foremost considerations when looking for a mate.
  • Kindness is contagious. Even a simple act of generosity creates ripples that spread through an entire community.
  • Being kind to others makes us feel more positive. Life tends to be more satisfying and the world seems like a better place. Altruism can also trigger significant boosts in confidence and self-esteem.

How to be more Altruistic: Practice Makes Perfect

Compassion is part of being human and kindness is more natural than cruelty and violence. All people, with the exception of individuals with severe types of antisocial personality disorder, are capable of developing higher levels of kindness and generosity toward others. Here are a few simple ways to cultivate kindness in your own life:

Model kindness. People who practice generosity inspire others to develop kindness towards others. Modeling compassion and generosity are especially important if you have children.

Don’t rush through your day. Even if you’re busy and your schedule is packed, leave a little time to observe the world around you. You’re more likely to respond to the problems of others of you aren’t pressed for time.

Practice viewing other people as individuals. Each person is different, not simply a random face in the crowd.

Seek commonalities with other people, even something as simple as a favored athletic team, shared interest or hobby. If that common thread seems elusive, remember that we all seek happiness, and at some point, we have all experienced sadness.

Cultivate gratefulness. People who are grateful tend to be more generous towards others. Be grateful for the good things in your life, even small, day-to-day surprises.

Say thank you often. Consider taking your appreciation to the next level by writing letters of gratitude to people who have helped or inspired you in the past.

Help one person every day. Pitch in with the family dinner dishes or hold a door open for a stranger. Experiment and learn what small acts of kindness make you feel good, then repeat them frequently. Before you know it, kindness will be second nature. Helping others needn’t be complicated.

Reach out to a person in need. Buy a meal for a homeless person or ask them how they’re doing. Say hello and share a greeting with a stranger. Send a card to somebody who is struggling through a difficult time.

Offer praise freely. Compliment others on a job well done.

Give up the habit of complaining. Make a commitment to stop griping for a week or a month and you’ll soon discover that you feel considerably more optimistic and hopeful.

Volunteer. Share things you’re good at. For example, if you’re a gardener, share fresh vegetables with those in need. If you’re a musician, volunteer to play at a senior center. If you’re a sports fan, volunteer at an athletic organization for kids.

Practice taking the high road. Don’t be quick to anger. If somebody offends you, try giving them the benefit of the doubt.

Smile at other people. You’ll both feel happier.

Addiction and Altruism: Kindness during Drug and Alcohol Treatment

One study suggests that addicts who reach out to help others during drug and alcohol treatment or rehab are more likely to maintain sobriety for a year or more. They also report feeling significantly more positive and less depressed. This is one of many good reasons to develop your altruistic qualities.

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