Another new year, another set of resolutions. We dig up our old resolution list from last year and nervously review if we managed to achieve at least 50% of what we planned in 2016.
A regular resolution list would consist things ranging from wanting to take better care of one’s health (also known as the obligatory “lose 10 kg by the end of the year”) to being financially responsible with one’s own money (also known as “buy less clothes and buy things that I only need, not things I badly want”) to improving one’s mental health being (also known as “be more patient and control my road rage when driving in KL during peak hours).
These are all good goals to have but more often than not, all these things serve to fulfil our own benefit. It isn’t necessarily a bad thing but in today’s world where sufferings, catastrophes and tragedies happen daily that we no longer become affected by them, it is a warning sign of what the citizens of the world could become :
“Oh another bombing attack just happened in Country X? What else is new. Got to move on with life, still have to go to work, someone has to pay the bills.”
“Oh a woman was assaulted but the assailant was released because of some technicality issue? Well, the woman of asked for it. She shouldn’t have walked alone at night.”
“Refugees from Country Y are denied entry into Country Z after fleeing from the atrocities occurring in their own land and are now stranded at sea? I’ll offer a prayer for them, after I am done checking out the latest game score on the sports channel.”
We have become people deeply absorbed in our own little world and we have become of those who lift not a finger to offer help except when we are typing, giving furious comments on social media or when we know we might get something in return for our “effort”.
You may ask: Okay, so there are many bad things happening in this world. What do you want me to do? More importantly, what can I do because I doubt my little action would bring any significant impact that will relieve the plight of others.
Let’s start by adding one extra thing to your 2017’s Resolution List: Change my jaded mentality. I may not be able to change the condition of the world but I am able to bring a positive impact within my locality.
Then beneath the list of things you want to become in 2017 such as “To become a healthier person” or “To become a smarter person”, add “To become an altruistic person” onto it as well.
What is Altruism?
Altruism is the belief or practice whereby we put the welfare of others before ours. It is similar to the selflessness trait and it is a virtue promoted by all religions and cultures.
Coined by French philosopher Auguste Comte, the term is derived from the Italian altrui, which in turn was derived from Latin alteri, meaning “other people” or “somebody else”.
In general, altruism is the act of being selfless and the need to help people out by putting their welfare before us, especially those who are less fortunate than us. Altruism is a much needed virtue in today’s age because society today are built on the assumption that we are basically selfish people.
Why Being Altruistic Is Good For You
1. It makes you feel good and boost your mental health.
At many points in our life, we have come across homeless and poor people on the streets. Usually, we spare a ringgit or two for them and on days when we feel extra generous, we subtly put in an extra ten or twenty ringgit into their “donation cup”. We go home with twenty ringgit less in our wallets but we somehow return home with this inexplicable “warm, happy feeling” inside of us; an extra “bonus” we did not expect getting from the charity we did earlier.
Have you ever had that feeling? Sometimes it could also simply come from a random act of kindness that you did when you helped an old man cross the road and afterwards you get that warm glow inside your heart. That’s what helping others cause you to feel. Happy, pleased, positive. Even when you don’t get anything in return.
York University carried out a 6 months study involving a number of candidates that were asked to act in a helpful way towards other people. The results suggested that those that consciously helped others were happier and healthier than those that didn’t change their behaviour . This study proves how helping people is beneficial not only for our physical health but our mental health as well because we are able to avoid depression and mental stress.
2. The instinct to help others is embedded within us.
The instinct to help others, be it through random acts of kindness or altruism is actually a trait we have within us. It’s that disturbed inkling we get when we see a person is being bullied in front of us and we want to do something to stop it.
It is that unsettled feeling we get when we see injustice happening right in front of our eyes but we can’t do anything to help the situation. This trait of helping others is inside of us. We just need guidance early on in life on how to channel this instinct to good causes.
3. It makes us empathetic and compassionate people
Altruism nurtures you into becoming empathetic people and not just sympathetic. Empathy helps us relate and imagine what it is like when tragedy strikes us. This form of “putting-myself-in-your-shoes” help us assist people in need better because we are able to gauge their level of emotional distress. It makes us understand the feeling of compassion.
In an article written by Ervin Staub, a professor of Psychology Emeritus, he states that infants as early as a day or two after birth have already shown a primitive form of empathy . Nurtured well into adulthood, this trait can help build a compassionate society that is free from selfishness and the “what’s in it for me” attitude.
5 Steps For Beginners Of Altruism
So you say, “Wait, I do help people. I give monetary donations to my local charity, I occasionally help feed the homeless with my fellow friends, I even change my Facebook profile picture to support certain causes and stand in solidarity. Don’t those things count as altruism?”
Yes, they most certainly do. In no way is this article meant to belittle any effort made, be it big or small. What this article aims is to urge, persuade, entice you readers into making your “occasional” acts of kindness into a regular, committed routine that will eventually make altruism an important aspect in your life.
Because the truth is, sometimes we do acts of kindness in hopes of getting something in return. It could be appreciation, recognition, or even tax deduction (when we give donations to charitable foundations). The best kind of definition that differentiates acts of kindness with altruism is this :
“The typical distinction is that altruism is a subset of kindness where the action is either selfless or sacrificial. You can show kindness with an intent to benefit from it, while altruism requires that you have no substantial intent to gain.” 
So how does one become an altruistic person? Below are 5 steps for making altruism a part of your life.
Step 1 – Find a cause that is close to your heart
Nothing fuels the drive to give out to a good cause better than passion. If you are passionate about saving the earth and worry about climate change, find causes that are related to environmental issues and NGOs that work towards saving our planet. If you’re all about eradicating sexism and gender inequality, volunteer for causes that serve towards women empowerment.
If it’s animals that you love and cruelty towards animals be it through food producing or cosmetic making disturbs you greatly, there are even organizations that help fight for the rights of the beloved furry friends such as our local SPCA. If you are passionate about educating the society about mental health and how depression or anxiety are not taken seriously enough within the community, be involved with movements that advocate such missions.
Whichever cause you choose to be involved with, let it be the one whose mission and work you are proud of representing.
Step 2 – Research about various NGOs / NPOs
After finding a cause that you are passionate about, research about various non-governmental or non-profit organizations that share the same mission as you. While there is nothing wrong with altruistic work on an individual level, an established organization opens up many opportunities for you to learn more about the “good fight” that you’re signing up for.
Organizations such as Woman’s Aid Organisation (WAO) and All Women’s Action Society (AWAM) help you understand the types of abuses women go through in Malaysia. National Cancer Council Malaysia (MAKNA) offers training for volunteers interested in helping out their cause as do Humanitarian Care Malaysia (MyCARE) that specializes in disaster relief work and humanitarian effort across East Asia.
These are just to name a few and there are many more organizations out there for you to be a part of. Subscribe to their newsletters, see their schedules and announcements calling out for volunteers. Start by first going to programs organized by them to see the way things are being done.
Then make acquaintances and let the organization know about your seriousness to commit in giving your time and energy for their cause. Let them know that their mission is something you truly believe in and you don’t intend on making this a one-time thing in your life.
Step 3 – Start an online movement
Let’s all be frank, everything we do nowadays are captured in a photo and we share it on multiples social media account we own. “Hashtagging” has become the norm. Whilst the older generation can’t seem to comprehend the act of displaying every single thing we do online for the public to see, we can always adopt this habit for a good cause and not just showcase what we ate for lunch that day.
Some might say you are showing off your good deed for the public to see but it’s all about perspective. If it is within your intention to share a heartfelt photo of that weekend you spent with the soup kitchen crew feeding the homeless in hopes of raising awareness about their condition, then it is a photo worth sharing.
“Flood” your social media with articles, photos and announcements about any volunteerism work that is being carried out, let your online friends be positively influenced with your altruistic activities, let them see that when it comes to volunteerism, it is not about having enough time, it all comes down to whether you want to contribute or not, that altruism and helping people can be incorporated into your current lifestyle.
The photos, the postings, the hashtags, all of it will become an online movement for you to urge more friends to get out of the house and give back to society.
Step 4 – Loving others starts by loving yourself
You’ve seen those pre-flight safety demonstrations, right? Remember the part where the flight attendant demonstrates how to put on the oxygen mask in the event of oxygen decompression in aeroplanes? Remember how the flight attendant strictly reminds passengers to always put the oxygen mask on themselves first before helping out children, the disabled or anyone else requiring assistance?
This is because, in order for you to help others, you must make sure you are well enough first before administering help to other people around you. The same rules apply in any aspect our lives, especially in altruistic work.
Yes, altruism is all about putting the need of others before yours but if you aren’t taking care of your own physical and mental health, how do you expect to give others what you don’t even have yourself? How can you expect to serve the homeless with a smile and compassionate heart if you are angry and impatient on the inside?
The truth with altruism or any form of selfless work is that without proper “check-and-balance”, you will feel your energy being drained out. Witnessing all the suffering that happens whilst you are helping the poor, the unfortunate and the homeless will affect you emotionally and will take a toll on your mental health. Helping out people, being “out there on the field” every single day will be physically taxing for you. By the end of the month, all you want to do is quit and give up.
This is why it is important for you to take several moments in between, to take care of your own health, to check up on your emotional resilience, to take a breather when you feel your motivation is running low. Before doing things for other people that will make them happy, it is imperative for you to make yourself happy first.
This could simply be an activity that you do in the morning before going out for your volunteer work in the afternoon such a meditating, or reading, or spending time with your loved ones. Know that you are human and it’s okay to feel tired or frustrated with the injustice that you see but fill up your “energy tank” with your own personalized “happy pill”. You can’t give love to people if you don’t have love within your own self. And altruism is built upon the foundation of selfless love.
Step 5 – Constantly renew your intention
As mentioned above, altruism and selflessness are not all “roses and rays of sunshine”. Not all acts of altruism involve you wearing clean clothes, standing behind a food counter with a smile whilst serving hot soup to the homeless.
The are other more gruelling (but no less noble) acts of altruism being done out there such as cleaning the toilets of your local worship place, rebuilding dilapidated old folks home, and helping out victims affected by natural disasters such as the flash flood in the East Coast of Malaysia.
When you are covered in dirt and mud, when you are required to carry hundreds of boxes consisting of food and medical supplies to the emergency rescue centre, when you have to work for 3 days straight without getting proper sleep or rest because the flood victims need all the help that they could get, remember why you chose to do this altruistic act in the first place.
Constantly renew your intention. Find small joy in those moments of despair and remind yourself that it is about them, the ones you are helping.
It is never about you. It is never about that one photo opportunity you want to gloat on your social media.
Further reading on Altruism :