Altruism and Gratitude

“Gratitude is the “forgotten factor” in happiness research” –Emmons Lab at UCDavis, University of California

I’ve been thinking a lot about gratitude and selfless acts lately. The other day, my husband and I went out for breakfast and as we were leaving we saw that it had started raining. He handed me the leftovers box and said that he’d pull up the car. While I was waiting I was struck by an overwhelming sense of gratitude. He had absolutely nothing to gain by pulling the car up for me so I wouldn’t have to run across the street in the rain. He did it because he didn’t want me to get wet. He didn’t care how wet he got or that he had to run across a semi-busy street to get the car for me. I also find it odd that I hadn’t been paying attention to the selfless acts that people do for my benefit.

I used to be grateful for the little things. I didn’t take many things for granted when I was younger but I think life got in the way and jaded me. I began to look for ulterior motives. I stopped practicing altruism as well. When I think about some of the things that I do “for other people” I realize that I have selfish motives behind them. I started to volunteer because I wanted something to put on my resume. I continue to volunteer because I’m obligated to. When trying to think of a completely selfless act, I suppose I can come up with a few things but I’ve realized that I want to perform more altruism. I want to do more for people because I am truly grateful for what people have done for me.

Let me also say that I realize that it’s okay to be selfish sometimes. It’s important for our own health to be selfish in some ways. It’s not realistic to always be selfless and it can be difficult to find the middle ground between being altruistic and being a doormat.

However, there are many benefits to altruism. One of the sites I found while researching was the benefits of altruism. Let me summarize:

  • Altruism is good for our emotional well-being and can enhance our peace of mind.
  • Altruism increases our social supports. As we increase our reputation for being selfless we may reap what we sow in the form of favors from others.
  • Helping others less fortunate may help us keep our own lives in perspective and help increase our gratitude of the things we do have.
  • Being altruistic builds a better community. If we do something good for one person, they will be more likely to do something good for another person and so on. This is called paying it forward.
  • Studies have shown that the act of giving can activate the area of the brain associated with positive feelings, lifting your spirits, and making you feel better the more you give.

As for gratitude. I think gratitude and altruism are closely connected. If I’m grateful for everything I have, whether someone has given it to me selflessly or not, I am more likely to give back to others. This creates a cycle because the more we give, the more likely we are to receive and so on.

Researchers at UC Davis at University of California have found:

  • Grateful people report higher levels of positive emotions, life satisfaction, vitality, optimism and lower levels of depression and stress.
  • The disposition toward gratitude appears to enhance pleasant feeling states more than it diminishes unpleasant emotions.
  • Grateful people do not deny or ignore the negative aspects of life.
  • They tend to be more empathetic and are better able to take the perspectives of others.
  • They are rated as more generous and more helpful by people in their social networks.
  • Those who regularly attend religious services and engage in religious activities such as prayer reading religious material score are more likely to be grateful.
  • Grateful people are more likely to acknowledge a belief in the interconnectedness of all life and a commitment to and responsibility to others.
  • Gratitude does not require religious faith, but faith enhances the ability to be grateful.
  • Grateful individuals place less importance on material goods; they are less likely to judge their own and others success in terms of possessions accumulated; they are less envious of others; and are more likely to share their possessions with others relative to less grateful persons.

If all of this is possible just by showing more gratitude, why wouldn’t more people want to try?

I’m going to start a gratitude journal because I could always use a little mood boost. Does anyone want to join me? Post in the comments if you have an experience with your own gratitude journal.


6 thoughts on “Altruism and Gratitude

  1. Dear Wholly Happy,
    I enjoyed reading your blog about gratitude. How nice of your husband to go get the car to help you stay dry. That was sweet.
    Thank you for linking to my Power of Thankfulness blog. I appreciate it very much.
    Do something fun to celebrate you today.
    Never Give Up
    Joan Y. Edwards

  2. Pingback: Key To Maintaining Happiness | WhollyHappy

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