Thanks to pioneers like Robert Emmons and Michael McCollough, we now know that gratitude can have an enormously positive effect on our mental health. Not only that, thanks to the advent of neuroplasticity, practicing gratitude can even help shape your brain in ways that promote resilience and well-being.
If you need a boost on ways to practice gratitude, check out my post on 5 Steps to Gratitude and Lovingkindness: Mondays Mindful Quote with Hafiz.
But this post isn’t just about gratitude, it’s about taking it a step further which moves into another stage called altruism. Altruistic behavior is all about acting selflessly to help serve or benefit another. Altruistic behavior has been found to be a predictor of happiness and life satisfaction (Cambridge University Press, 2009).
Altruism is also tied to another hot topic in our culture today and that is compassion and kindness. In this blog I have written a number of posts about compassion and kindness because they are such good nutrition for our health and well-being. Compassion has been called an antidote to anger and kindness has been called and antidote to fear.
Now, it could be argued that because I brought up all the personal benefits you may experience from engaging with kindness, compassion and altruism that these endeavors are not pure because you know they will serve your mental health. In other words, they’re ego-driven. Try and set this argument aside for now as we move into the social implication of kindness, compassion and altruism.
While the brain takes longer to register compassion for social pain than individual pain, the effect is longer lasting when awareness around social pain settles in. There are certain tragedies in this world that are so apparent that a compassion trigger gets set off in the brain and we feel called to action. We have an unselfish drive to help other people and this is what altruism is all about.
Whether it’s 9/11, the tragedy of Darfur or the recent devastation in Haiti, millions of people feel this calling to help. No matter how much we may be suffering in any given moment, we all have this truly bright side inside of us, it’s absolutely there.
So as they say, an ounce of practice is worth more than a ton of theory, so let’s get practical.
Consider this question right now:
Without judgment, ask yourself, where does altruism show up in my life?
Altruism could be service or funds given to a cause that you are interested in or a conscious smile to the person in the checkout line of a grocery store. Altruism could be in the act of recycling or planting some trees in giving back to the planet. It could mean volunteering at the homeless shelter or taking time to tutor someone for free. It can be in the act of knitting a hat or scarf for someone or donating food.
If you’re not noticing much, what are some ways you can consider integrating into your day? If you use a scheduling system, put it in there now to remind you to do so.
There are ways every day to show compassion and gratitude through altruism.
How is it showing up in my life?
A Mindful Dialogue – Haiti Relief Project
As many of you know Haiti was struck with a 7.0 earthquake last week and today anothe 6.1 aftershock, leaving over 72,000 people dead and thousands more no doubt experiencing severe physical and emotional trauma. Although the global fanfare may die down after a week or so, this trauma goes on for years.
I have recently taken on a project for Haiti Relief, collecting all the interviews I have conducted with leaders in the field of mindfulness and psychotherapy (e.g., Dan Siegel, Tara Brach, Jack Kornfield, Sharon Salzberg, Sylvia Boorstein, Jeff Brantley, among many others) along with some writings I have done with quotes from poets such as Rumi, Hafiz, Ghandi, Mother Teresa, etc… and compiling into a book with the working title A Mindful Dialogue: A Path Toward Dealing with Difficult Emotions. I think this can be a great resource for you and also give you and those you care about an opportunity to engage in altruism.
Service is the greatest form of altruism so if you are interested in helping get the word out about this (e.g., through email lists, facebook, twitter, etc…), please feel free to contact me or just note that in the comment section below.
100% of the profits from this book are going to go to the Red Cross for Haiti Relief (The book will sell for $9.99).
I’m hoping to have this completed and available by Monday for purchase.
As always, please share your thoughts, stories and questions below. How does altruism show up in your life or what ideas might you have for yourself or others going forward. Think big and small. Your interaction below provides a living wisdom for us all to benefit from.