Altruism: The Greater Good

Altruism: The Greater Good

Practicing altruism significantly improves your happiness and health

There is no better exercise for your heart
Than reaching down and helping to lift someone up.
-Bernard Meltzer

Altruism, defined as an unselfish concern for the welfare of others:

  • You find a wallet in the grocery cart and call the owner who has been panicking since they lost it, and get it back to them safely.
  • You find a dog stranded on the road and return him to his distraught owner.
  • You travel to a third world country and go to work to improve the conditions of people much less fortunate than you.
  • You lend an ear, hand or words of encouragement when needed to someone hurting or in need.
  • You connect with an organization that you really believe in to help create positive change and good in the world.

elping others not only improves their life but also can significantly change how you feel physically, emotionally and mentally! Giving back to others may be one of the most effective ways to feel great and relieve long-term health issues.

Experimental evidence suggests that helping others is related to many positive mental and physical health outcomes, including weight control, lower blood pressure and relief from depression and chronic pain.

Neurological research conducted by The National Institutes of Health (NIH) found that when individuals donate money, the brain’s mesolimbic system is activated, creating a wonderful release of brain chemicals resulting in a state of euphoria—now known as a “helper’s high.” This “helper’s high” is based on the theory that giving produces endorphins in the brain that provide a mild version of ”morphine high.” Researchers identified that the same area of the brain that is activated in response to food or sex (namely, pleasure) lit up when participants in the study thought about giving money to a charity.

An Emory University study revealed that helping others lit up the same part of the brain as receiving rewards or experiencing pleasure. This “helper’s high” is a euphoric feeling, followed by a longer period of calm experienced after performing a kind act, and is followed by a longer-lasting period of improved emotional well-being and sense of self-worth, feelings that in turn reduce stress and improve the health of the helper.

The Top 10 Health Benefits of Altruism:

  • Enhancing the immune system
  • A decrease in both the intensity and the awareness of physical pain
  • Activation of the emotions that are vital to maintaining good health
  • Reduction of the incidence of attitudes, such as chronic hostility, that negatively arouse and damage the body
  • The multiple benefits to the body’s systems provided by stress relief
  • Reduction in high blood pressure
  • Weight loss
  • Improved mood and reduced depression rates
  • Overall sense of well-being and outlook on life
  • Release of the body’s natural painkillers, endorphins, as part of the “helper’s high”

I recently experienced this “helper’s high” while traveling to Africa. My daughter McKenzie and I went to Tanzania to work with children and young women for a 21-day period of time. While there, I went from my 24/7 mach-speed American lifestyle to a slow paced, desolate conditions, intermittently frustrating, disease oriented, limited resources, and very needy environment. This forced me to use every skill I had to get through each day.

About 10 days into my trip, something amazing happened. I realized how totally excellent I was feeling—energetic, pain free, happy, positive, calm, relaxed and at times totally “ok” with just sitting still (not normal for me) and most of all just really enjoying where I was at any given moment, even if it was difficult. I worked closely with a Maasai doctor who is helping to stop female genital mutilation (www.nofgm.com). Each day that we would create some little effort for the good, I continued to find myself feeling wonderfully revived and energized, with normal aches and pains completely vanished!

I find myself thinking nearly on a daily basis now how can I keep this “helper’s high” going (who wouldn’t want to feel this great, while also helping others?). The daily quest to give back, to do something that honors and helps others, and ultimately find ways to make this world a better place for those less fortunate than us is something I would like to keep at the top of my priority list.

So…if you are finding yourself feeling depressed, plagued with chronic pain in your heart or your joints, gaining weight, or experiencing toxic stress and it is making you sick…consider a shift in your attention and your time. Try altruism and watch many physical and emotional benefits flood your system every day. It’s worth it!

Cheers to the GREATER GOOD!
Nisha Jackson