Altruism has been woven through cultures and societies across the world and is seen predominantly positive, as the saying goes “it is better to give than to receive”. The underprivileged do benefit from such kind acts; as a poor woman receives a warm meal on a cold day from a soup kitchen, or tutoring those who cannot afford an education. The question comes that even though the receiver is blessed, is the giver happier in return? Happiness. The state of experiencing positive emotions that range from comfort to intense glee. In contemporary culture, many of us averagely understand happiness through the lens of hedonic happiness. Defined as the prevailing positive emotions of a person’s feelings, this state of happiness usually lasts for a short period of time and leaves one desiring for more. Along with the 21st Century’s elevated quest for making more money, the conflation between these two aspects has led people to chase that life of hedonic happiness without us realizing that there is a form of super happiness that we have never really looked at. On the other hand, when we look at super happiness, Muhammad Yunus defines it as a form of eudaimonic happiness, where we look at the individuals’ satisfaction with their life. This is regardless of their current state of emotions, super happiness is all about the individual’s purpose, meaning in life and their growth of self-actualization. In this context, this paper aims to show that through altruism and giving, the giver in return will have an increase in life satisfaction, contribute to a continuous cycle of happiness and even be physically healthier.
Satisfaction in Life As Winston Churchill once said, “We aim to make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.” In a study done by Buchanan and Bardi (2009), participants were randomly selected to carry out acts of kindness, acts of novelty, or no acts daily for 10 days. Their life satisfaction evaluated by the 5-item Satisfaction with Life Scale (Diener et al., 1985) was done before and after the 10 days. (Figure 1) Those who had performed acts of kindness or acts of novelty increased in their life satisfaction. In a more recent study done by Park, S. Q. et al. (2017), participants were tasked to spend money over 4 weeks, as they were split into an Others group and a Themselves group. The participants in the Others group made charitable choices outside of spending money independently without being told and showed greater increases in self-reported happiness over the Themselves group. A functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI) was then used to evaluate the happiness level after the 4 weeks. The results had found out two things, as the Others group were found to be more generous after the experiment, fMRI found increased activity in the temporoparietal-junction (TPJ) and the ventral striatum (Figure 2), which both are neurologically associated with generosity. Furthermore, participants in the Others group reported a greater increase in life satisfaction than those in the Themselves group.
Overall, with these two experiments showing the increase in life satisfaction through constant acts of kindness, we can rule in that the giver does seem to be happier in terms of their eudaimonic well-being. Pay it Forward The concept where the beneficiary of a kind act repays it to others instead of to the original benefactor. When an individual is able to live his life for the purpose of others rather than themselves, they seem to receive more in their long-term psychological well-being (PWB). Research by Pressman et al. (2014) found that there were increases of positive affects and decreases in negative affect on those who participated in a ‘paying it forward’ event. The PANAS Positive and Negative Affect Scale (Watson et al., 1998) was used to measure the statistics (Figure 3). The overall statistics support the hypothesis that many different aspects ranging from well-being, life satisfaction, optimism, and gratitude become increasingly better. Furthermore, the mood of positive emotions was the most significant increase. The second part of the study focused on the external impact of these acts of kindness.
As Pressman et al., wanted to see if a chain of altruistic acts start to begin and multiply, the receivers were also measured. These participants were questioned on “how likely they were to pay the good deed forward on a scale from 1 to 7, 1 signifying ‘very unlikely’ and 7 signifying ‘very likely.’” Out of the 251 receiver participants, 38.5% had already paid it forward by the time of the survey done on them. Overall, this research evidence has shown that as altruistic actions do improve the lives of the givers, it in turn does start to slowly impact the ones who receive as well, thus possibly creating a continuous cycle of happiness. Physically Healthier and Happier As we know how altruism has led to an increase in positive PWB, researchers Schwartz et al. (2012) wanted to examine the ramifications of altruism on participants who had spine lumbar disorders and see if there were any physical benefits that derived from altruistic actions. 243 adults with disorders had participated, with three key categories, recent surgery, anticipating surgery, and completed surgery; this was in order to account for benefits due to surgical success.
Using the Schwartz Altruism Questionnaire (Schwartz et al., 2008) a self-reporting scale evaluating factors such as “community connection, community pressure, helping orientation, and general helping behaviours”, to find out how altruistic the individual participants are. The study discovered more positive benefits with spine lumbar disorders in more altruistic adults, such as improved health and lower blood pressure. The link was found between a better emotional health of optimism and hope towards being able to treat themselves better in the different stages of the surgery. This may have been a small sample of study to justify the association with a psychological well being to a physical benefit. However, as an individual with a more positive psychological well-being can seemingly lead to a better individual maintenance of health, thus leading to a happier life. Money and Happiness Altruism may not be the only factor to happiness, according to (Kahneman, D., & Deaton, A., 2010), income is also connected to life evaluation and low income is correlated to low life evaluation and low well-being. When compared to altruism, money would seem to have quite a huge weight into our happiness as well. However, in the same study, the researchers conclude that there is a link in emotional well-being rising along with annual income level, but surprisingly, beyond the $75,000 per year mark, there is no further progression. Past this $75,000 threshold, it seems that money is not able to enhance the ability of an individual to produce further what matters most to their eudaimonic happiness. Therefore, they begin to search for something beyond the point of earning more. Conclusion It seems that as humans we will always tend to search for a better life, the state of super happiness. As this paper shows, with the multiple researches that has been done to show that altruism does lead to this state. The progress of mankind has never stopped moving forward; which ends with the next question, “will there be a higher state than being super happy?”
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