Altruism is defined as selfless concern for others, and is seen as a highly desirable personality trait, particularly in people who work with others in service occupations. It’s one of the most prized personality traits in Western culture, where altruistic behavior is reflected in ethical guidelines such as the Golden Rule. Most major religions, including Buddhism, Judaism, Christianity, Islam, Hinduism, and Sikhism, value altruistic behavior.
Psychologists have been debating the origin and uniqueness of altruistic behavior for generations. Because it is the act of helping others without the thought of reward, it demonstrates a lack of thought for oneself while you are considering the situation of others and striving to improve it. In some cases, altruism isn’t completely pure because it’s actually an outgrowth of a moral imperative. For example, people who do charitable work because God demands it, or because they feel a sense of duty to country or a particular group.
True altruism has no underlying morals or beliefs to guide it and is the result of empathy for the feelings of others. The ability to understand and internalize the feelings of others is a powerful motivator. When we feel the pain of others, we often become agitated, anxious, and tense as a result. Taking altruistic action to alleviate their suffering also helps reduce our own distress.
Many psychologists believe that our propensity for empathy and altruistic behavior is part of our evolutionary make-up. We are hard-wired to respond to the plight of others because cooperative behavior and sharing enabled us to survive in a world that was difficult and unrelenting. The greater good was served by altruistic behavior, and today that instinct continues to motivate us. Today, however, the psychological effect of altruism seems to be the primary reward for altruism – it quite simply makes us feel good. Altruistic behavior gives people an emotional lift and leaves them feeling better about themselves and their world.