Positive Altruism: Helping that Benefits Both the Recipient and Giver
Positive psychology is the scientific study and practice of what enables individuals and groups to thrive. Positive psychologists emphasize the significant impact social relationships have on our well-being. This paper explores altruism, which is behavior motivated by the unselfish goal of helping others. Positive altruism occurs when altruistic behavior increases the welfare of both the benefactor and beneficiary. Research suggests that the source of altruism is empathy, which is an other-focused emotional response that is elicited by and congruent with the perceived welfare of another person. While empathy can lead us to help unselfishly, it can also create bias in decision making and lead to emotional exhaustion. Loving-kindness meditation is one practice that helps lead to positive altruism: it promotes empathy, while protecting against burnout. Research supports the link between altruistic behavior and increased health and well-being. Altruistic behavior can also facilitate post-traumatic growth (PTG). Further research on how we can facilitate positive altruism would have positive implications on the field of positive psychology.