Altruism Improves Health

Whenever we perform an act of kindness, we feel good about ourselves, and feeling good about ourselves is healthy—emotionally and physiologically. Good deeds increase our sense of connection with others—a variable that has consistently been associated with health. This could help explain why it is that in numerous studies, altruism has been strongly associated with superior health. It has also been shown that the healthiest and happiest people are commonly the first people to offer helping hands to coworkers as well as strangers. So it may be that many altruists are healthier than non-altruists even before they give generously of themselves to others. Helping others also increases our sense of meaning and purpose.

In her extensive research on happiness, research psychologist Sonja Lyubomirsky found that there are many reasons why altruism is associated with health. 


  • • We feel better about ourselves when we help others, and the resulting increased self-esteem creates healthy physiological changes. 
  • • The sense of mastery it often provides has the same effect. 
  • • By focusing on others who seem to be worse off than the ones who are helping, the helpers’ views of themselves are that they are healthier than they previously thought. 
  • • When we are involved in helping others, we are less focused on our own problems. 
2 replies
  1. Dan Bryan says:

    Altruism as a practice or habit, or an ethical doctrine sounds good, albeit it is hollow.

    Being altruistic with other peoples’ resources is crony socialism.
    Performing an altruistic act for those that are destitute in order to validate your empathy is the same thing as living out your fantasies while watching a movie on the big screen.
    Performing an altruistic act and then basking in the warmth provided for months and years is phony, like spraying pine sol around your plastic Christmas tree or trying to defog your glasses in front of an electric fireplace.

    Performing an altruistic act for self-aggrandizement is nothing but ethical egoism; you have your reward but you can’t take it with you?
    Quit thinking about yourself and consider the needy; is what you have to offer is really what they need?
    So the slippery slope of Altruism is it is a religion and love of self, as opposed to true Charity.

    Can you give charity without looking over the shoulder?
    Can you give charity without someone looking or of you the telling?
    What do you do when no one is watching?

    • Larry Berkelhammer says:


      I have not seen any controlled studies where the motivation for altruistic behavior was examined. However, my own belief is that altruistic acts that are performed solely to feel better about oneself or to assuage one’s guilt will not provide the same mental and physical health benefits as the same behavior performed out of the pure love of helping other people. In fact, the benefit to the recipient is probably diminished when the giver is only doing it for self-gain. In terms of health, there is little doubt in my mind that altruistic acts are less strongly associated with health than is the practice of opening your heart to others. For example, if you go around angry and judgmental, your mental and physical health will eventually suffer. Whereas, if you practice empathy and opening your heart to others, even if you never express it, your mental and physical health is more likely to improve. What matters most is attitude.

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