The Altruism Option – A Key to Wellness and a Fuller Life
The More You Give, The More You Receive
Too few of us are in touch with a lifestyle choice that can bring us a wealth of happiness, integrity, and wellness. Altruism, or giving to others, has grown out of favor over the past several decades, but it has been a feature of human interaction throughout history. Indeed, a spirit of cooperation and giving has always been a hallmark of what binds a group or even a society together. Two people sharing their resources can produce more than two individuals acting alone in most circumstances.
Many people take the attitude that they work hard for what they have, so why should they give anything to another person or an organization? Over the past several decades our culture has seen a shift away from giving toward a focus on self-interest. This shift coincides with a weakening of our sense of community, the breakdown of the nuclear (and extended) family, higher divorce rates, increased emotional diagnoses for children, and increased stratification of the social and economic orders. Guided by self-interest and greed, rather than compassion and sharing, some in our society continue to grow wealthier while many others drift down into poverty. Over the past decades, people’s ties to each other have weakened, and more people feel lonely. Violence has increased, as have human suffering and environmental destruction. More people these days feel disconnected from others and question whether their lives have meaning. They find security in acquiring material goods – the latest technological tool, the current handbag, the trendiest automobile. Adhering to self-interest has not left us individually, or as a society, in an emotionally healthy state.
The antidote to this cultural trend is found at the individual level. When enough people become conscious of how self-interest pervades their lives and then challenge it by adopting a different way of living, it spreads throughout society. Recent research into neurological activity in the brain indicates that we are “hard-wired” toward altruism – toward giving to others, compassion, caring, kindness, and sharing. This is the natural human condition. Exploring this part of yourself can bring you back into harmony with the your natural state.
Of course, self-interest and altruism are not either/or concepts. We need both. Just as the person guided purely by self-interest loses a great deal in terms of life experiences, the completely altruistic person – constantly serving others – is deprived of the experience of exploring aspects of his or her own self-care. The clue is to find a balance between these two extremes. At this cultural juncture, most people would benefit from looking into the altruistic option.
“Be the change you want to see in the world.” – Gandhi
Dr. Baya Mebarek, Psy.D., LMFT
San Diego Couples and Family Therapy serves the surrounding areas of Sorrento Valley Road as La Jolla, UTC San Diego, Del Mar, Rancho Santa Fe, Rancho Bernardo, Rancho Penasquitos, Poway, University City and Escondido.