Remember 2010’s Zhengkai International Marathon? You might not but one incidence where Jacqueline Nytepi Kiplomo - a marathoner, who was close to the finishing line chose to help a fellow runner who happened to be suffering from dehydration on the track. Although this act of kindness cost her the race, she had no regrets in helping the fellow runner and felt quite satisfied afterwards. Kiplomo said later
To me, he was not a stranger, but someone who needed my help.
This act of hers tells one crucial thing about our nature as humans. We care, not just about ourselves but for others. In this case, we care enough to lose something valuable for another.
Many examples like Kiplomo’s have proven that the act of giving not only fills joy in the lives of the receivers but also the givers. We achieve general satisfaction in our lives through such acts. The joy is indescribable because it takes courage to give something to others. Research has confirmed that giving helps in achieving meaning and fulfilment; something that being self-centred can never make us feel. It makes us less selfish and more social.
Although relative happiness comes from worldly things, genuine joy always comes from giving to others.
From a young age, we learn that charity is an excellent form of generosity. Even our religious scriptures teach us that charity is compassion which is essential for a truly spiritual life. However, we live in a competitive world. Our focus has shifted almost permanently on ruthless survival instead. In such a circumstance, the need to help others is immense.
Forms of Altruism
Giving is not just focussed on donating money or things but also giving out a little bit of yourself, your soul, and emotions to help others. It provides an opportunity to look beyond our world. It fills us with real joy. Giving is an investment to the community without an expectation of reciprocation. This is called altruism. Volunteering is a form of altruistic behavior, where the individual is allocating his or her time for something that has a positive impact on society. The most exciting thing is that the universe tends to repay for all the good deeds in one way or the other.
We, however, do see specific trends in charity. People mostly give to the causes that they feel attached to. These causes can be mental health awareness, education, treatment for cancer patients, etc. Some people offer support to specific charitable organizations, others donate a fixed amount of money periodically and some give things that they do not need anymore.
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Corporate Social Responsibility
A relatively recent trend of Corporate Social Responsibility has emerged and evolved. It is a form of self-regulation practised by small and large businesses with the purpose of serving some social cause. It requires engaging in volunteering or donating funds towards the betterment of society from which the organization is primarily earning. It is almost one of the ethics and moral duties of responsible businesses.
Need vs. What is given
While talking about charity, we must also consider the gap between the need of the receiver and how much of it is actually fulfilled. Many times, we get so enthusiastic while helping that we overlook the receiver’s need and we forget that the receiver might not actually need what we are giving. We can’t be selective about what we want to give, sometimes we have to ask precisely what it is that the receiver actually needs. Here, we will focus on why giving is a worthwhile exercise and in what ways we can help the needy in the current times of this pandemic.
How does giving help the giver?
While you may feel happiness and satisfaction while you give, altruism has many other benefits too. It is good for our physical health and mental well-being, as well as prolongs our lives. It also encourages social connections and gives us a sense of belongingness in the community. It thus encourages prosocial behavior in society. Let us look at the reasons in detail:
Makes One Happy
The act of altruism directly correlates with happiness. A study by Michael Norton et al. (2008) found that giving money to the needy lifted individuals’ happiness levels. Similar results have been found by happiness expert Sonja Lyubomirsky when the individuals asked to perform five acts of kindness each week for six weeks. It also produces excellent results in our biology.
In a study done on 2000 people, sociologists found that the people who practised altruism and volunteered were happier than those who never did.
It promotes positive physiological changes in our brains. Also, it gives individuals a mental boost by providing a neurochemical sense of reward. A 2006 study by Jorge Moll et al. at the National Institutes of Health found that when people give, it activates the regions of their brains generally associated with pleasure, social connection, and trust.
Some scientists believe that altruistic behavior releases endorphins which produces a positive feeling called the “helper’s high.”
Good for Physical Health
Altruism has numerous benefits on physical health. Most of the research on generosity has been linked up with better health, especially among the sick and elderly. One study shows that giving to others decreased the risk of hypertension by 40 percent in older people. Another study in 2006 by Rachel Piferi and Kathleen Lawler supports the claims of reduced hypertension in people who consistently provide social support. It also helps with chronic pain as it reduces their symptoms. Stephen Post, in Why Good Things Happen to Good People, suggests that altruistic behaviors have shown an increase in health benefits in people suffering from chronic illnesses like HIV and multiple sclerosis.
Good for Mental Well-Being
Acts of giving have shown a boost in self-esteem. It also boosts our well-being and helps in lowering depression. Writing about the mental health benefits, Carolyn Schwartz pointed out:
The act of giving to someone else may have mental-health benefits because the very nature of focusing outside the self counters the self-focused nature of anxiety or depression.
Neural evidence from fMRI studies has suggested that it activates mesolimbic regions of the brain which are involved in motivation. Moreover, altruistic behavior greatly helps in regulating our emotions.
Longevity of Life
When performed regularly, altruistic behaviors can lengthen one’s lifespan as it reduces the rate of stress and depression, and increases the sense of life satisfaction. Stress is related to many health problems, thus a decrease in stress improves our lifestyle. Doug Oman, in a study done in 1999, found that people who volunteered were less likely to die over five years than the non-volunteers. Stephanie Brown in 2003 saw similar results as Oman. She and her colleagues found that individuals who practised altruistic behavior, from providing help to friends and relatives to giving emotional support to others, had a lower risk of dying over five years. But receiving help did not help in reducing death risk.
Gives a Sense of Purpose and Satisfaction
The altruistic behavior gives a sense of purpose and satisfaction to the giver. It enhances an individual’s overall sense of purpose and identity, which in turn makes one feel rewarded, fulfilled, and empowered. It creates a positive impact on oneself and changes outlook and attitude.
Forges Social Connections
Giving to others creates a sense of belongingness in an individual. It helps one make new friends which reduces loneliness and isolation. Sociologists Brent Simpson and Robb Willer have suggested that one’s generosity is likely to be rewarded, sometimes it is the same person one had helped, sometimes it is someone else. It promotes a sense of trust and cooperation in a community that strengthens one’s ties with their community. This positive social interaction is good for one’s physical as well as mental health. Sonja Lyubomirsky in The How of Happiness (2007) wrote,
Being kind and generous leads you to perceive others more positively and more charitably, fosters a heightened sense of interdependence and cooperation in your social community.
Encourages Prosocial Behaviour
An altruistic behavior by one creates a ripple effect throughout the community.
One of the learning models based on Bandura’s model of social learning suggests that people, especially kids, learn by observing others. In accordance with the study by Bandura, we can link that observing positive behaviors like charity has a positive effect on one’s mind. It creates a positive chain of reaction and helps everyone imbibe pro-social behavior. Studies suggest that it promotes positive response in teens.
According to sociologists, teens who volunteer have shown the signs of high self-esteem and performed reasonably well in academics. A study by James Fowler and Nicholas Christakis (published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science) shows that when an individual behaves generously, they inspire others to act that way too. Fowler and Christakis found that altruism can spread to three degrees. Due to this, the individual can influence people even if they never meet each other.
According to Paul Zak, ‘giving’ releases a dose of oxytocin (a hormone that induces feelings of warmth, euphoria, and connection with others) that causes people to give more generously and to feel more empathy towards others. The symptoms generally last for two hours. Zak further explains that people who are on an “oxytocin high” can potentially jumpstart a “virtuous circle, where one person’s generous behavior triggers others.”
How Can One Give To Others In The Times Of COVID-19?
The inherent act of altruism becomes strong when we as a species face a life-threatening calamity like COVID-19. During the pandemic, it is hard to help anybody, especially when we have to stay as isolated as possible. But our desire to help others runs deep, and we often look for unconventional ways to help each other. Here are some of the means through which you can help others:
- Say thank you to everyone for something they have done for you.
- Lend emotional support to a relative or a friend who is isolated due to the outbreak.
- Have fun and bonding activities with your family, like writing a gratitude letter.
- Help others by giving masks, sanitizers, and food supplies.
- Volunteer for online teaching, offering your knowledge and skills to the NGOs and local schools who need your help.
- Donate funds to the right organizations that hold accountability and ensure that your donated funds are for the benefit of the truly needy only.
- Help homeless people by providing housing that allows them to self-isolate. You can contact the local hotels to offer them free shelter, or you can ensure their rent yourself.
- Use social media for social good. Learn new ways of socializing and providing meaningful support to each other through the use of social media platforms in the right way.
We all possess compassion in us, which gives us unlimited ways of helping and of making a positive difference in our community. It is necessary to come together as a community and relish in the joy of giving to others, especially during these trying times.
It is essential to hold our forts and not let humanity down during this time. While we are working selflessly towards community-building, we must not forget to take care of ourselves.