High School Sweetheart: How Altruism Can Warm Any Heart
This past Valentine’s Day, an Oklahoma high school student showed how quickly the effects of kindness can spread.
Dan Williams decided last summer that no girl in his school should feel left out on Feb. 14, regardless of her relationship status. He worked and saved up to buy all 1,076 of them candy. Additionally, he sent each a “Valegram” card through the school that read, “Remember, there will always be people who care about you, and I will always be one of them. Love, Anonymous.” Although he meant to keep his identity secret, someone blew his cover, and the buzz began.
“To know that someone cares about them — that’s the best feeling in the world, I think,” he said while explaining his actions to a local news station. According to the coverage, Dan doesn’t have a girlfriend, but the station speculated he soon would. The girls were delighted when they found out who their no-longer-secret Romeo was. His gesture created a feeling of love throughout Edmond Memorial High School.
No Good Deed Goes Unstudied
What makes someone commit an altruistic act? First, let’s look at how researchers define it, as well as what they believe about whether we’re naturally inclined to take part in it.
“Altruism is when we act to promote someone else’s welfare, even at a risk or cost to ourselves,” according to The Greater Good Science Center. “Though some believe that humans are fundamentally self-interested, recent research suggests otherwise: Studies have found that people’s first impulse is to cooperate rather than compete; that toddlers spontaneously help people in need out of a genuine concern for their welfare; and that even non-human primates display altruism.”
Kindness Pays You Back
A writer for the Positive Psychology Center at the University of Pennsylvania questions whether pure altruism exists because of the benefits kind deeds provide to the people who carry them out. Some of these positive effects include:
- Helper’s high: Kind actions can release feel-good brain chemicals such as dopamine and endorphins.
- Social acceptance: People are often praised when they’re observed being kind.
- Improved sense of self-worth: Some people who might at times feel helpless in the face of the world’s problems can find that service to others increases their feelings of being worthwhile.
- Carrying out a family legacy: Kind actions can strengthen bonds among a family that values service.
- Social connections: When people volunteer together, it connects them as a group.
- Help maintaining sobriety: One addiction researcher has found that people struggling with addiction who help others, even in seemingly small ways, can significantly improve their chances of preventing a relapse.
Even one of the most profound sources of wisdom, the 14th Dalai Lama, emphasizes the power of good deeds: “When we feel love and kindness toward others,” he has said, “it not only makes others feel loved and cared for, but it helps us also to develop inner happiness and peace.”
By Edie Weinstein, LSW
Follow Edie on Twitter at @EdieWeinstein112