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The impact of helping others – a deep dive into the benefits of providing support to those in need.

Essay about helping others

Compassion is a virtue that ignites the flames of kindness and empathy in our hearts. It is an innate human quality that has the power to bring light into the lives of those in need. When we extend a helping hand to others, we not only uplift their spirits but also nourish our own souls. The act of kindness and compassion resonates in the depths of our being, reminding us of the interconnectedness and shared humanity we all possess.

In a world that can sometimes be filled with hardships and struggles, the power of compassion shines like a beacon of hope. It is through offering a listening ear, a comforting embrace, or a simple gesture of kindness that we can make a profound impact on someone else’s life. The ripple effect of compassion is endless, as the seeds of love and understanding we sow in others’ hearts continue to grow and flourish, spreading positivity and light wherever they go.

The Significance of Compassionate Acts

The Significance of Compassionate Acts

Compassionate acts have a profound impact on both the giver and the receiver. When we extend a helping hand to others in need, we not only alleviate their suffering but also experience a sense of fulfillment and purpose. Compassion fosters a sense of connection and empathy, strengthening our bonds with others and creating a more caring and supportive community.

Moreover, compassionate acts have a ripple effect, inspiring others to pay it forward and perpetuate kindness. One small act of compassion can set off a chain reaction of positive deeds, influencing the world in ways we may never fully realize. By showing compassion to others, we contribute to a more compassionate and understanding society, one that values empathy and kindness above all else.

Understanding the Impact

Helping others can have a profound impact not only on those receiving assistance but also on the individuals providing help. When we lend a hand to someone in need, we are not just offering material support; we are also showing compassion and empathy . This act of kindness can strengthen bonds between individuals and foster a sense of community .

Furthermore, helping others can boost our own well-being . Studies have shown that acts of kindness and generosity can reduce stress , improve mood , and enhance overall happiness . By giving back , we not only make a positive impact on the lives of others but also nourish our own souls .

Benefits of Helping Others

Benefits of Helping Others

There are numerous benefits to helping others, both for the recipient and for the giver. Here are some of the key advantages:

  • Increased feelings of happiness and fulfilment
  • Improved mental health and well-being
  • Building stronger connections and relationships with others
  • Reduced stress levels and improved self-esteem
  • Promoting a sense of purpose and meaning in life
  • Contributing to a more compassionate and caring society

By helping others, we not only make a positive impact on the world around us but also experience personal growth and benefits that can enhance our overall happiness and well-being.

Empathy and Connection

Empathy plays a crucial role in our ability to connect with others and understand their experiences. When we practice empathy, we put ourselves in someone else’s shoes and try to see the world from their perspective. This act of compassion allows us to build a connection based on understanding and mutual respect.

By cultivating empathy, we can bridge the gap between different individuals and communities, fostering a sense of unity and solidarity. Empathy helps us recognize the humanity in others, regardless of their background or circumstances, and promotes a culture of kindness and inclusivity.

Through empathy, we not only show compassion towards those in need but also create a supportive environment where everyone feels valued and understood. It is through empathy that we can truly make a difference in the lives of others and build a more compassionate society.

Spreading Positivity Through Kindness

One of the most powerful ways to help others is by spreading positivity through acts of kindness. Kindness has the remarkable ability to brighten someone’s day, lift their spirits, and create a ripple effect of happiness in the world.

Simple gestures like giving a compliment, lending a helping hand, or sharing a smile can make a significant impact on someone’s life. These acts of kindness not only benefit the recipient but also bring a sense of fulfillment and joy to the giver.

When we choose to spread positivity through kindness, we contribute to building a more compassionate and caring society. By showing empathy and understanding towards others, we create a supportive environment where people feel valued and respected.

Kindness is contagious and has the power to inspire others to pay it forward, creating a chain reaction of goodwill and compassion. By incorporating acts of kindness into our daily lives, we can make a positive difference and help create a better world for all.

Creating a Ripple Effect

When we extend a helping hand to others, we set off a chain reaction that can have a profound impact on the world around us. Just like a stone thrown into a calm pond creates ripples that spread outward, our acts of compassion can touch the lives of many, inspiring them to do the same.

By showing kindness and empathy, we not only make a difference in the lives of those we help but also create a ripple effect that can lead to positive change in our communities and beyond. A small gesture of kindness can ignite a spark of hope in someone’s heart, motivating them to pay it forward and spread compassion to others.

Each act of generosity and care has the power to create a ripple effect that can ripple outwards, reaching far beyond our immediate circles. As more and more people join in this chain of kindness, the impact multiplies, creating a wave of positivity that can transform the world one small act of kindness at a time.

Building a Stronger Community

One of the key benefits of helping others is the positive impact it can have on building a stronger community. When individuals come together to support one another, whether it’s through acts of kindness, volunteering, or simply being there for someone in need, it fosters a sense of unity and connection. This sense of community helps to create a supportive and caring environment where people feel valued and respected.

By helping others, we also set an example for those around us, inspiring others to also lend a hand and contribute to the well-being of the community. This ripple effect can lead to a chain reaction of kindness and generosity that can ultimately make the community a better place for everyone.

Furthermore, when people feel supported and cared for by their community, they are more likely to be happier and healthier, both mentally and physically. This sense of belonging and connection can help to reduce feelings of isolation and loneliness, and can improve overall well-being.

In conclusion, building a stronger community through helping others is essential for creating a more positive and caring society. By coming together and supporting one another, we can create a community that is resilient, compassionate, and unified.

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Have You Ever Had to Make a Sacrifice to Help Someone You Care About?

helping others often involves great sacrifice essay

By Michael Gonchar

  • Oct. 18, 2016

Perhaps you gave up your weekend to spend time with a loved one who was sick? Or you had to get an after-school job to help your family pay the rent? Or maybe you had to give up playing a sport or spending time with your friends to babysit a younger sibling?

Sometimes life doesn’t work out the way we want it to. Have you ever had to make some kind of sacrifice, whether big or small, to help someone you care about?

In the article “ Brother Helped to the Finish Before Collapsing in Dramatic Triathlon ,” Victor Mather writes about one athlete’s decision to slow down to help his brother cross the finish line during an elite race.

An elite triathlon race in Mexico ended dramatically Sunday with one brother helping another across the finish line. At the final race of the World Triathlon Series in Cozumel, Mexico, Jonny Brownlee of Britain was leading with less than half a mile to go when he slowed and staggered over to a water station. His brother, Alistair, in a battle for second with Henri Schoeman of South Africa, veered over, pulled Jonny’s arm over his shoulder and began hauling him along. Meanwhile, Schoeman raced on for the win. When the Brownlees reached the finish, Alistair pushed Jonny across the line in second. Jonny immediately collapsed. He was admitted to a hospital, suffering from dehydration.

Students: Read the entire article, then tell us:

— Have you ever had to make a sacrifice to help someone you care about? Why did they need help? How did you help? What did you have to give up, whether big or small, to be helpful?

— Have you ever been faced with a situation where you decided not to help someone you care about, for whatever reason? Did you ever regret that decision? Explain.

Students 13 and older are invited to comment. All comments are moderated by the Learning Network staff, but please keep in mind that once your comment is accepted, it will be made public.

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Behavior is normally described as altruistic when it is motivated by a desire to benefit someone other than oneself for that person’s sake. The term is used as the contrary of “self-interested” or “selfish” or “egoistic”—words applied to behavior that is motivated solely by the desire to benefit oneself. “Malicious” designates an even greater contrast: it applies to behavior that expresses a desire to harm others simply for the sake of harming them.

Sometimes, however, the word is used more broadly to refer to behavior that benefits others, regardless of its motive. Altruism in this broad sense might be attributed to certain kinds of non-human animals—mother bears, for example, who protect their cubs from attack, and in doing so put their own lives in danger. So used, there is no implication that such adult bears act “for the sake” of their young (Sober and Wilson 1998: 6).

This essay will discuss altruism in the former sense, as behavior undertaken deliberately to help someone other than the agent for that other individual’s sake. There is a large and growing empirical literature on altruism, which asks whether there is an evolutionary or biological basis for human altruism, and whether non -human species exhibit it or something similar to it. These issues are addressed by the entries on empirical approaches to altruism and biological altruism .

It is commonly assumed that we ought to be altruistic at least to some extent. But to what extent? And is altruism necessarily admirable? Why should one act for the sake of others and not only for one’s own sake? For that matter, do people in fact act out of altruism, or is all behavior ultimately self-interested?

1.1 Mixed motives and pure altruism

1.2 self-sacrifice, strong and weak altruism, 1.3 moral motives and altruistic motives, 1.4 well-being and perfection, 2.1 psychological egoism: strong and weak versions, 2.2 an empirical argument for psychological egoism, 2.3 an a priori argument for psychological egoism, 2.4 hunger and desire, 2.5 desire and motivation, 2.6 pure altruism and self-sacrifice, 2.7 does egoism exist, 3. self and others: some radical metaphysical alternatives, 4.1 eudaimonism, 4.2 impartial reason, 4.3 nagel and the impersonal standpoint, 4.4 sentimentalism and fellow feeling, 5. kant on sympathy and duty, 6. sentimentalism revisited, 7. conclusion, other internet resources, related entries, 1. what is altruism.

Before proceeding, further clarification of the term “altruism” is called for.

Altruistic acts include not only those undertaken in order to do good to others, but also those undertaken in order to avoid or prevent harm to them. Suppose, for example, someone drives her car extra cautiously because she sees that she is in an area where children are playing, and she wants to insure that she injures no one. It would be appropriate to say that her caution is altruistically motivated. She is not trying to make those children better off, but she is being careful not to make them worse off. She does this because she genuinely cares about them for their sake.

Furthermore, altruistic acts need not involve self-sacrifice, and they remain altruistic even when they are performed from a mixture of motives, some of which are self-interested. The driver in the preceding example may have plenty of time to get where she is going; slowing down and paying extra attention may not be contrary to her own good. Even so, her act counts as altruistic if one of her motives for being cautious is her concern for the children for their sake. She may also be aware that if she injures a child, she could be punished for reckless driving, which she of course wants to avoid for self-interested reasons. So, her caution is both altruistic and self-interested; it is not motivated by only one kind of reason. We should not be confused by the fact that “self-interested” and “altruistic” are opposites. A single motive cannot be characterized in both ways; but a single act can be undertaken from both motives.

If someone performs an act entirely from altruistic motives—if, that is, self-interested motives are entirely absent—we can describe her act as a case of “pure” altruism. We should be careful to distinguish purely altruistic behavior from self-sacrificing behavior: the former involves no gain for oneself, whereas the latter involves some loss. If someone has a theater ticket that he cannot use because he is ill, and he calls the box office so that the ticket can be used by someone else, that is a case of pure altruism, but it involves no sacrifice.

Consider someone whose deliberations are always guided by this principle: “I shall never do anything unless doing so is best for me”. Such an individual is refusing ever to sacrifice his well-being even to the slightest degree. But in view of the terminological points just made, he could have altruistic motives for some of what he does—or even for much or all that he does! On any given occasion, he could have mixed motives: he is careful always to do what is best for himself, but that allows him also to be motivated by the perception that what he does is also good for others.

It would be odd or misleading to say that such an individual is an altruistic person. Many people would criticize him for being insufficiently altruistic. It is part of common sense morality that one should be willing to compromise with other people—to cooperate with others in ways that require one to accept what is less good for oneself than some other alternative, so that others can have their fair share.

These reflections lead to a peculiar result: each act undertaken by such an individual could be altruistically motivated, and yet we are reluctant, and reasonably so, to say that he is an altruistic person. The best way to accommodate both ideas, which seem to be in tension, would be to make a distinction between two uses of the word “altruism”. An act is altruistic in the strong sense if is undertaken in spite of the perception that it involves some loss of one’s well-being. An act is altruistic in the weak sense if it is motivated, at least in part, by the fact that it benefits someone else or the fact that it will not injure anyone else. The individual described two paragraphs above is someone who never acts altruistically in the strong sense. That policy seems objectionable to many people—even though he may act altruistically in the weak sense on many occasions.

Some of what we do in our interactions with other people is morally motivated but not altruistic. Suppose A has borrowed a book from B and has promised to return it within a week. When A returns the book by the deadline, his motive might be described as moral: he has freely made a promise, and he takes himself to have an obligation to keep such promises. His motive is simply to keep his word; this is not an example of altruism. But if A gives B a book as a gift, thinking that B will enjoy it and find it useful, he is acting simply out of a desire to benefit B . His motive in this case is altruistic.

Similarly, suppose a mother refrains from giving her adult son advice about a certain matter because she thinks that it is not her place to do so—it would be interfering too much in his private affairs. Even so, she might also think that he would benefit from receiving her advice; she respects his autonomy but fears that as a result he will decide badly. Her restraint is morally motivated, but it would not normally be described as an act of altruism.

As these examples indicate, the notion of altruism is applicable not to every morally motivated treatment of others, but more narrowly to what is done out of a concern for the good of others—in other words, for their well-being. Altruistic acts might be described as charitable or benevolent or kind, for these words also convey the idea of acting for the good of others, and not merely rightly towards others.

Often the individuals who are the “targets” of altruistic behavior are selected for such treatment because of a personal tie between the benefactor and the beneficiary. If A was extraordinarily kind to B when B was a child, and at a later time B is in a position to help A out of a difficult situation, the help B gives to A is altruistically motivated, even though their common past explains why it is A that B has chosen to help (rather than a stranger in need). Here it is assumed that B is not promoting A ’s well-being as a mere means to his own ( B ’s) own well-being. If that were so, B would not be benefiting A for A ’s sake, but only for B ’s sake. (A further assumption is that B is not motivated simply by a sense that he owes repayment to A ; rather, he not only feels indebted to A but also genuinely cares about him.) The people whom we treat altruistically are often those to whom we have a sentimental attachment, or towards whom we feel grateful. But that is not the only possibility. Some altruistic acts are motivated simply by a recognition of the great need of those who benefit from them, and the benefactor and beneficiary may be strangers to each other.

That an act is altruistically motivated does not entail that it is justified or praiseworthy. A may mistakenly think that she is enhancing the well-being of B ; B might also mistakenly think that she is benefiting from A ’s efforts. We could say that in such cases there is something admirable about A ’s motive, but nonetheless judge that she ought not to have acted as she did.

As noted above, altruistic acts are guided by assumptions made by the agent about the well-being of some other individual or group. What well-being consists in is a disputed matter, but it is uncontroversial that a distinction must be drawn between (i) what constitutes well-being and (ii) what is a necessary means towards or a pre-condition of well-being. This kind of distinction is familiar, and is applicable in all sorts of cases. For example, we distinguish between what a breakfast consists in (cereal, juice, coffee) and the things one needs in order to eat breakfast (spoons, glasses, mugs). There is no such thing as eating breakfast but not eating anything that breakfast consists in. In the same way, well-being must be sought and fostered by seeking and fostering the good or goods in which well-being consists. Rival theories of well-being are competing ways of answering the question: what are its constituents? After we have answered that question, we need to address the further question of how best to obtain those constituents. (Contemporary discussions of well-being can be found in Badhwar 2014; Feldman 1994, 2010; Fletcher 2016; Griffin 1986; Kraut 2007; Sumner 1996 Tiberius 2018.)

Well-being admits of degrees: the more one has of the good or goods in which it consists, the better off one is. It would be an awkward manner of speaking to say of someone: “she has well-being”. A more natural way to express that idea would be to use such terms as these: “she is faring well”, “she is well off”, “she is flourishing”, “her life is going well for her”. The constituents of well-being can also be spoken of as benefits or advantages—but when one uses these terms to refer to well-being, one must recognize that these benefits or advantages are constituents of well-being, and not merely of instrumental value. Benefits and advantages, in other words, fall into two categories: those that are good for someone merely because they foster other goods, and those that are good for someone in that they are constituents of that individual’s well-being.

A distinction must be drawn between being good at something and having what is good for oneself. It is one thing to say, “he is good at acting” and another to say “acting is good for him”. Philosophers speak of the former as “perfectionist value” and the latter as “prudential value”. That is because when one tries to be good at something, one hopes to move closer to the ideal of perfection. Prudential value is the kind of good that it would be in someone’s interest to obtain—it is another term that belongs to the group we have been discussing: “well-being”, “welfare”, “benefit”, and so on.

Even though perfectionist and prudential value must be distinguished, it should not be inferred that that being good at something is not a constituent of well-being. To return to the example used in the preceding paragraph: if someone has great talent as an actor and enjoys acting and every aspect of theatrical life, it is plausible to say that his well-being consists, at least to some extent, in his enjoyment of these activities. There are two different facts in play here: (i) he is an excellent actor, and (ii) being an excellent actor is good for him (not as a mere means, but as a component of his well-being). The value referred to in (i) is perfectionist value, and in (ii) prudential value. It would be prudent of him, in other words, to continue to excel as an actor.

These points about well-being and excellence are pertinent to a study of altruism because they help guard against a too narrow conception of the sorts of goods that an altruist might promote in others. Altruists do not aim only at the relief of suffering or the avoidance of harm—they also try to provide positive benefits to others for their sake. What counts as a benefit depends on what the correct theory of well-being is, but it is widely and plausibly assumed that certain kinds of excellence are components of a good life. For example, someone who founds a school that trains children to excel in the arts and sciences, or in sports, simply so that they will enjoy exercising such skills, would be regarded as a great public benefactor and philanthropist. Similarly, teachers and parents who foster in their students and children a love of literature and the skills needed to appreciate it would be viewed as altruists, if they are motivated by the thought that by themselves these activities are benefits to those students and children.

However, it is possible for someone to be dedicated to excellence and at the same time to be utterly indifferent to human well-being—and when this happens, we have no inclination to say that such a person is motivated by altruism. Someone might be devoted to a subject—mathematics, or philosophy, or literature—rather than to the well-being of those who study and master that subject. For example, imagine a student of literature who cares deeply about James Joyce’s Ulysses , because he takes it to be one of the supreme achievements of the human mind. He does not want that novel merely to gather dust on library shelves—it deserves readers who love and understand it, and so the skills needed to appreciate it must be kept alive from one generation to another. This kind of devotion to perfectionist value is not a form of altruism.

For an act to be altruistically motivated is for the benefactor —not the beneficiary—to have a certain attitude towards it. A child who acquires from a tennis instructor the skills of a good athlete and a love of the game may simply think of tennis as great fun—not as something that benefits him or as a constituent of his life going well. The child does not need to practice his skills because he believes that doing so is good for him: that is not a necessary condition of his being the beneficiary of an altruistic act. Similarly, someone might deny that physical suffering counts as something that is bad for him. (He should deny this, according to the Stoics.) But on any plausible theory of well-being, he is wrong about that; someone who aims to diminish the pain of another individual, out of a concern for that individual’s well-being, is acting altruistically.

To take another example, consider someone who develops a love of philosophy and immerses herself in the subject. When she asks herself whether she is doing this for her own good, she may reply that her reasons are quite different. She may say, “philosophy is worthwhile in itself”. Or: “I want to solve the mind-body problem and the free will problem because these are deep and important issues”. If we suggested to her that her philosophical struggles are a component of her well-being, she might regard that as a strange way of looking at things. But her view is not authoritative—whether she is right depends on what the best theory of well-being is. Others who care about her could plausibly believe that her love of philosophy is a component of her well-being, because it constitutes an enrichment and deepening of her mind, which is of value to her in itself, whether or not it leads to some further result. If they help her pursue her philosophical interests simply for her sake, their motives would be altruistic, even if she herself does not care about philosophy because she thinks it is good for her.

2. Does altruism exist?

According to a doctrine called “psychological egoism”, all human action is ultimately motivated by self-interest. The psychological egoist can agree with the idea, endorsed by common sense, that we often seek to benefit others besides ourselves; but he says that when we do so, that is because we regard helping others as a mere means to our own good. According to the psychological egoist, we do not care about others for their sake. Altruism, in other words, does not exist.

Since we have distinguished several different ways of using the term “altruism”, it will be helpful to make similar distinctions between different varieties of psychological egoism. Recall that an act is altruistic in the weak sense if it is motivated, at least in part, by the fact that it benefits someone else (or the fact that it will not injure anyone else). Psychological egoism, as defined in the preceding paragraph, denies that altruism in this sense exists. That is the strongest form of this doctrine; it is usually what philosophers have in mind when they discuss psychological egoism. But we can imagine weaker versions. One of them would deny that altruism is ever pure; it would say, in other words, that whenever we act, one of our motives is a desire for our own good. Another weaker form of psychological egoism would hold that we never voluntarily do what we foresee will sacrifice our well-being to some extent. This third form of psychological egoism would admit that sometimes one of our reasons for acting is the good we do for others for their sake; but it claims that we never act for the good of others when we think that doing so would make us worse off.

Someone might arrive at one or another of these forms of psychological egoism because she takes herself to be a keen observer of the human scene, and her acquaintance with other people has convinced her that this is how they are motivated. But that way of justifying psychological egoism has a serious weakness. Others can say to this psychological egoist:

Perhaps the people you know are like this. But my experience of the world is rather different from yours. I know many people who try to benefit others for their sake. I myself act altruistically. So, at most, your theory applies only to the people in your social world.

The psychological egoist can respond to this criticism in either of two ways. First, she might claim that his doctrine is supported by experimental evidence. That is, she might believe that (i) the subjects studied by psychologists in carefully conducted experiments have been shown to be not purely altruistic, or (more strongly) that these subjects ultimately care only about their own good; and (ii) that we can infer from these experiments that all human beings are motivated in the same way.

This is a disputed matter. There is experimental evidence that casts doubt on psychological egoism in its strong and in weaker forms, but the controversy continues (see Batson 2011; Stich et al. 2010).

A second response on the part of the psychological egoist would consist in an a priori philosophical argument for one or another version of that doctrine. According to this line of thinking, we can see “from the armchair”—that is, without seeking empirical confirmation of any sort—that psychological egoism (in one of its forms) must be true.

How might such an argument go? Drawing upon some ideas that can be found in Plato’s dialogues, we might affirm two premises: (i) What motivates us to act is always a desire; (ii) all desires are to be understood on the model of hunger (see Meno 77c; Symposium 199e–200a, 204e).

To elaborate on the idea behind (ii): When we are hungry, our hunger has an object: food (or perhaps some particular kind of food). But we do not want to ingest the food for its own sake; what we are really after is the feeling of satisfaction that we expect to get as a result of eating. Ingesting this or that piece of food is something we want, but only as a means of achieving a sense of satisfaction or satiation.

If all desire is understood in the same way, and all motivation takes the form of desire, then we can infer that psychological egoism in its strong form is true (and therefore its weaker versions are also true). Consider an action that seems, on the surface, to be altruistically motivated: I give you a gift simply because I think you will like it. Now, since I want to give you this gift, and all desire should be understood as a kind of hunger, I am hungering after your feeling pleased, as I hunger after a piece of food. But just as no one wants to ingest a piece of food for its own sake, I do not want you to feel pleased for your sake; rather, what I am seeking is the feeling of satisfaction I will get when you are pleased, and your being pleased is simply the means by which I achieve satisfaction. Accordingly, we don’t have to be keen observers of other people or look within ourselves to arrive at psychological egoism. We can recognize that this doctrine is correct simply by thinking about the nature of motivation and desire.

But the assumption that all desires are like hunger in the relevant respect is open to question. Hunger is not satisfied if one still feels hungry after one has eaten. It seeks a certain kind of consciousness in oneself. But many kinds of desires are not like that. Suppose, for example, that I want my young children to be prosperous as adults long after I have died, and I take steps that increase to some small degree their chances of achieving that distant goal. What my desire is for is their prosperity far into the future, not my current or future feeling of satisfaction. I don’t know and cannot know whether the steps that I take will actually bring about the goal I seek; what I do know is that I will not be alive when they are adults, and so even if they are prosperous, that will give me no pleasure. (Since, by hypothesis I can only hope, and do not feel confident, that the provisions I make for them will actually produce the good results I seek for them, I get little current satisfaction from my act.) It would make no sense, therefore, to suggest that I do not want them to be prosperous for their sake, but only as a means to the achievement of some goal of my own. My goal is their well-being, not my own. In fact, if I allocate to them resources that I myself need, in the hope that doing so will make their lives better, I am doing something that one form of psychological egoism says is impossible: sacrificing my own good, to some degree, for the sake of others. If the psychological egoist claims that such self-sacrifice is impossible because all desire is like hunger, the reply should be that this model does not fit all cases of desire.

Recall the two premises used by the armchair psychological egoist: (i) What motivates us to act is always a desire; (ii) all desires are to be understood on the model of hunger. The second premise is implausible, as we have just seen; and, since both premises must be true for the argument to reach its conclusion, the argument can be rejected.

It is worth observing, however, that first premise of this argument is also open to question.

This thesis that what motivates us to act is always a desire should be accepted only if we have a good understanding of what a desire is. If a desire is simply identified with whatever internal state moves someone to act, then the claim, “what motivates us to act is always a desire”, when spelled out more fully, is a tautology. It says: “the internal state that moves us to act is always the internal state that moves us to act”. That is not a substantive insight into human psychology, but a statement of identity, of the form “ A = A ”. We might have thought we were learning something about what causes action by being told, “what motivates people is always a desire”, but if “desire” is just a term for whatever it is that motivates us, we are learning nothing (see Nagel 1970: 27–32).

Here is a different way of making the same point: As the words “desire” and “want” are often used, it makes good sense to say: “I don’t want to do this, but I think I ought to”. That is the sort of remark we often make when we take ourselves to have an unpleasant duty or obligation, or when we face a challenge that we expect to be difficult and stressful. In these sorts of situation, we do not hunger after the goal we move towards. So, as the word “desire” is often used, it is simply false that what motivates us to act is always a desire. Now, the psychological egoist who seeks an a priori defense of this doctrine might say:

when I claim that what motivates us to act is always a desire, I am not using the word “desire” as it is sometimes used. My usage is much broader. Among desires, in this broad sense, I include the belief that one ought to do something. In fact, it includes any internal state that causes someone to act.

Clearly, the thesis that what moves us is always a desire, when so understood, is empty.

The common sense terms we often use to explain why we help others do not need to refer to our own desires. You are in a public space and come across someone off-putting in appearance but who seems to need your help. He appears to be in pain, or confused, or needy in some way. Recognizing this, you take yourself to have a good reason to offer him your assistance. You think that you ought to ask him whether you can help—even though that will delay you and may cause you some trouble and discomfort. These ways of describing your motivation are all that is needed to explain why you offered him your help, and it is not necessary to add, “I wanted to help him”. Admittedly, when “desire” is used to designate whatever it is that motivates someone, it is true that you wanted to help him. But what does the explanatory work, in these cases, is your recognition of his need and your judgment that therefore you ought to offer your help. Saying, “I wanted to help him” would be misleading, since it would suggest that there was something pleasant that you expected to get by offering your assistance. After you have given him your help, it is true, you might think back on this encounter, and be pleased that you had done the right thing. But you might not—you might be worried that what you did actually made him worse off, despite your good intentions. And in any case, if you do look back with pleasure at your good deed, it does not follow that feeling good was your goal all along, and that you merely used him as a means to that end. That would follow only if desire by its very nature is a form of hunger.

Of the three forms of psychological egoism distinguished above, the one that is least open to objection is the weak form that holds that altruism is never pure. It claims that whenever we act, one of our motives is a desire for our own good. There is no good a priori argument for this thesis—or, at any rate, the a priori argument we have been considering for the strongest form of psychological egoism does not support it, because the two premises used in that argument are so implausible. But it might nonetheless be suggested that as a matter of fact we always do find some self-interested motivation that accompanies altruistically motivated behavior. It is difficult to refute that proposal. We should not pretend that we know all of the considerations and causes that underlie our behavior. Some of our motives are hidden, and there is too much going on in our minds for us to be aware of the whole of our psychology. So, for all we know, we might never be pure altruists.

But what of the other weak form of psychological egoism?—the one that admits that sometimes one of our reasons for acting is the good we do for others for their sake, but claims that we never act for the good of others when we think that doing so would make us worse off. It says, in other words, that we never voluntarily do what we foresee will sacrifice our well-being to some extent.

The first point to be made about this form of psychological egoism is that, once again, there is no a priori argument to support it. The two premises we have been examining—that all action is motivated by desire and all desire is like hunger—are implausible, and so they do not support the thesis that we never sacrifice our well-being to any degree. If this form of psychological egoism is to be sustained, its evidence would have to be drawn from the observation of each human being’s reasons for acting. It would have to say: when our motives are carefully scrutinized, it may indeed be found that although we do good to others for the sake of those others, we never do so when we think it would detract even slightly from our own well-being. In other words, we count the good of others as something that by itself gives us a reason, but it is always a weak reason, in that it is never as strong as reasons that derive from our self-interest.

We have no reason to suppose that human behavior is so uniform in its motivation. A far more plausible hypothesis about human motives is that they vary a great deal from one person to another. Some people are never altruistic; others are just as this weak form of psychological egoism says: they are altruistic, but only when they think this will not detract from their own well-being; and then there is a third and large category filled with people who, to some degree or other, are willing to sacrifice their well-being for others. Within this category there is wide range—some are willing to make only small sacrifices, others larger sacrifices, and some extraordinarily large sacrifices. This way of thinking has the great advantage of allowing our experience of each individual to provide us with the evidence by means of which we characterize him. We should not label everyone as an egoist on the basis of some a priori theory; rather, we should assess each person’s degree of egoism and altruism on the basis of what we can discern of their motives.

One further point should be made about our reasons for supposing that there is such a thing as altruism. Just as we can ask, “what entitles us to believe that altruism exists?” so we can ask: “what entitles us to believe that egoism exists?” Consider the possibility that whenever we act for our own good, we are not doing so only for our own sake, but also for the sake of someone else. On what grounds are we entitled to reject that possibility?

Once again, the egoist might reply that it is an a priori truth that all of our actions are ultimately motivated only by self-interest, but we have seen the weakness of the premises that support that argument. So, if the hypothesis that sometimes one acts only for one’s own sake is true, it must recommend itself to us because close observation of human behavior supports it. We must find actual cases of someone promoting his own good only for his own sake. It is no easier to be confident about such matters than it is easy to be confident that someone has acted out of purely altruistic motives. We realize that much of what we do for ourselves has consequences for other people as well, and we care to some degree about those other people. Perhaps our ultimate motivation always includes an other-regarding component. It is more difficult to find evidence against that suggestion than one might have thought.

To take matters to an extreme, it might be suggested that our ultimate motivation is always entirely other-regarding. According to this far-fetched hypothesis, whenever we act for our own good, we do so not at all for our own sake, but always entirely for the sake of someone else. The important point here is that the denial that altruism exists should be regarded with as much suspicion as this contrary denial, according to which people never act ultimately for their own good. Both are dubious universal generalizations. Both have far less plausibility than the common sense assumption that people sometimes act in purely egoistic ways, sometimes in purely altruistic ways, and often in ways that mix, in varying degrees, the good of oneself and the good of others.

An assumption that many people make about egoistic and altruistic motives is that it is more difficult to justify the latter than the former, or that the former do not require justification whereas the latter do. If someone asks himself, “Why should I take my own good to be a reason to do anything?” it is tempting to respond that something is amiss in the very asking of this question—perhaps because there can be no answer to it. Self-interest, it might be said, can be given no justification and needs none. By contrast, since other people are other , it seems as though some reason needs to be given for building a bridge from oneself to those others. In other words, we apparently have to find something in others that justifies our taking an interest in their well-being, whereas one need not seek something in oneself that would justify self-regard. (Perhaps what we find in others that justifies altruism is that they are just like oneself in important respects.) It is worth asking whether this apparent asymmetry between justifying self-interest and justifying altruism is real or only apparent.

One response to this question is that the asymmetry is illusory because the very distinction between oneself and others is artificial and an obstacle to clear thinking. One can begin to challenge the validity or importance of the distinction between self and others by noticing how many changes occur in the inner life of what is, conventionally speaking, a single “person”. The mind of a newborn, a child, an adolescent, a young adult, a middle aged person, and an old person approaching death—these can have at least as many differences as do those who are conventionally counted as two distinct individuals. If a young man of twenty years sets aside money to provide for his retirement in old age, he is saving for someone who will be quite different from himself. Why should that not be called altruism rather than self-interest? Why does it matter whether it is called acting for his own good or for the good of another? (See Parfit 1984.)

Another kind of challenge to the validity of the distinction between self and others derives from the observation made by David Hume that when we look within and make an inventory of the contents of our mental life, we have no acquaintance with any entity that would provide a reference for the word “self”. Introspection can tell us something about sensations, feelings, and thoughts—but we do not have any experience of some entity that is the one who has these sensations, feelings, and thoughts. That point might be regarded as a reason to reject the common sense view that when you refer to yourself, and distinguish yourself from someone else, there is something real that you are talking about, or some valid distinction between yourself and others. It might be thought, in other words, that the ordinary distinction between altruistic and egoistic motives is misguided because there are no such things as selves.

A third metaphysical possibility is this: human beings cannot be understood one by one, as though each were a self-sufficient and fully real individual. That way of thinking about ourselves fails to recognize the profound way in which we are by our nature social beings. You and I and others are by our nature mere parts of some larger social unit. As an analogy, one might think of the human body and such parts of the body as fingers, hands, arms, legs, toes, torso, and so on. They cannot exist, much less function properly, in isolation. Similarly, it might be said that individual human beings are mere fragments of a larger social whole. Accordingly, instead of using the concepts expressed by the terms “self-interested” and “altruistic”, we should see ourselves as contributors to the success and well-functioning of the larger community to which we belong (see Brink 2003; Green 1883).

The remainder of this essay will set aside these unorthodox alternatives to the common sense metaphysical framework that we normally presuppose when we think about self-interested and altruistic motives. It would take us too far afield to examine them. We will continue to make these assumptions: First, a single individual human being persists over time from birth to death, even when the mental life of that individual undergoes many changes. Second, there is someone one is referring to when one talks about oneself, even though there is no object called the “self” that we detect introspectively. And the fact that we do not encounter such an object by introspection is no reason to doubt the validity of the distinction made between oneself and others. Third, although certain things (arms, legs, noses, etc.) are by their very nature parts of a whole, no human being is by nature a part in that same way. Rejecting these ideas, we will continue to assume, with common sense, that for each human being there is such a thing as what is good for that human being; and that the questions, “what is good for me?”, “what is good for that other individual, who is not me?” are different questions. Accordingly, it is one thing for a reason to be self-interested, and another for it to be altruistic (although of course one and the same act can be supported by both kinds of reasons).

Assuming, then, that the distinction between these motives is real, the questions we asked at the beginning of this section remain: Why ought one to be altruistic? Does one need a justification for being motivated in this way? Is egoistic motivation on a sounder footing than altruistic motivation, in that it stands in no need of justification?

4. Why care about others?

Radically different ways of answering these questions can be found in moral philosophy. The first makes self-interested motivation fundamental; it holds that we should be altruistic because it is in our interest to be so moved. That strategy is often attributed to the Greek and Roman philosophers of antiquity—Plato, Aristotle, the Stoics, and the Epicureans (see Annas 1993).

In the modern era, a second approach has come to the fore, built on the notion that moral thinking is not self-centered but impartial and impersonal. Its basic idea is that when we think morally about what to do, reason takes a god’s-eye perspective and sets aside the emotional bias we normally have in our own favor, or in favor of our circle of friends or our community. Here Kant 1785 is a representative figure, but so too are the utilitarians—Jeremy Bentham 1789, John Stuart Mill 1864, and Henry Sidgwick 1907.

A third approach, championed by David Hume (1739), Adam Smith (1759), and Arthur Schopenhauer (1840), gives sympathy, compassion, and personal affection—rather than impartial reason—a central role to play in the moral life. It holds that there is something extraordinarily valuable in the sentimental bonds that take hold among human beings—a feature of human life that is overlooked or distorted when morality is understood solely or primarily in impersonal terms and from a god’s-eye point of view. In favorable conditions, we naturally and emotionally respond to the weal and woe of others; we do not and should not look for reasons to do so. (The assorted ideas labeled “sentimentalism” in this entry are an amalgam of ideas derived loosely from the writings of Blum 1980; Noddings 1986; Slote 1992, 2001 2010, 2013; and others. The term is sometimes applied to a family of meta-ethical views that ground the meaning or justification of moral propositions in attitudes rather than response-independent facts (Blackburn 2001). Here, by contrast, sentimentalism is a ground-level thesis about what is most valuable in human relationships. It could be combined with meta-ethical sentimentalism, but need not be.)

These three approaches are hardly an exhaustive survey of all that has been said in the Western philosophical tradition about altruism. A fuller treatment would examine the Christian conception of love, as developed by thinkers of the medieval period. To a large extent, such figures as Augustine and Aquinas work within a eudaimonistic framework, although they are also influenced by the Neoplatonic picture of the visible world as an outpouring of the bountifulness of divine goodness. To the extent that rewards of heaven and the sufferings of hell play a role in a theocentric framework, there are instrumental reasons, for those who need them, to care for others. But there are other reasons as well. Other-regarding virtues like charity and justice are perfections of the human soul and are therefore components of our earthly well-being. Christian philosophy rejects Aristotle’s doctrine that divine being has no ethical qualities and makes no interventions in human life. God is a person who loves his creation, human beings above all. When we love others for themselves, we imitate God and express our love for him (Lewis 1960).

The term “eudaimonism” is often used by philosophers to refer to the ethical orientation of all or the major philosophers of Greek and Roman antiquity. “ Eudaimonia ” is the ordinary Greek word they apply to the highest good. As Aristotle observes at the beginning of the Nicomachean Ethics , whenever we act, we aim at some good—but goods are not all at the same level. Lower goods are undertaken for the sake of more valuable goals, which are in turn pursued in order to achieve still better goods. This hierarchy of value cannot continue endlessly—a life must have some ultimate goal, something that is valuable in itself and not for the sake of anything still better. What that goal should be, Aristotle acknowledges, is a much disputed matter; but at any rate, everyone uses the word “ eudaimonia ” to designate that highest good. (“Happiness” is the standard translation, but “well-being” and “flourishing” may be closer to the Greek word’s meaning.)

Aristotle does not say that one’s ultimate goal should be one’s own well-being ( eudaimonia ) and no one else’s . On the contrary, he holds that the common good (the good of the whole political community) is superior to the good of a single individual. Nonetheless, it has become common among scholars of ancient ethics to attribute to Aristotle and the other major moral philosophers of antiquity the assumption that one’s ultimate goal should just be one’s own well-being.

Is this an implausible assumption? That is the accusation of many systems of modern moral philosophy, but one must be careful not to attribute to Greek and Roman ethics an extreme endorsement of selfishness. One way to see that this would be unfair is to recognize how important it is to Aristotle that we love others for their sake . That is a key ingredient of his lengthy discussion of friendship and love in Books VIII and IX of the Nicomachean Ethics . There he argues that (i) friendship is an ingredient of a good life, and (ii) to be a friend to someone (or at any rate a friend of the best sort) one must not treat him as a mere means to one’s own advantage or one’s own pleasure. He elaborates on (ii) by adding that in friendships of the best sort, each individual admires the other for the excellence of that other person’s character, and benefits him for that reason. It is clear, then, that he explicitly condemns those who treat others as mere means to their own ends. So, even if it is true that, according to Aristotle, one’s ultimate goal should be one’s own well-being (and no one else’s), he combines this with the denial that the good of others should be valued solely as a means to one’s own.

It is crucial, at this point, that we keep in mind the distinction, drawn above in section 1.4 , between (i) what constitutes well-being and (ii) what is a necessary means towards or a pre-condition of well-being. Aristotle argues that one’s well-being is constituted by the excellent use of one’s reason, and that such virtues as justice, courage, and generosity are among the qualities in which one’s good consists. When one acts with justice and generosity towards one’s family, or friends, or the larger community, that is good for oneself (one is achieving one’s ultimate goal) and it is also good for others—in fact, one’s action is motivated in part by the desire to benefit those others for their sake. If treating others justly and in accordance with the other ethical virtues were merely a means towards one’s own well-being, Aristotle’s framework for ethics would be objectionably self-regarding—and it would be difficult for it to endorse, without inconsistency, the thesis that we ought to benefit others for their sake.

We should recall a point made in section 1.1 : altruistic acts need not involve self-sacrifice, and they remain altruistic even when they are performed from a mixture of motives, some of which are self-interested. For Aristotle, altruism should always be accompanied by self-interested motives. His system of practical thought could be dismissed out of hand if one begins with the assumption that moral motivation must be purely altruistic, free from all taint of self-regard. Otherwise, it would not count as moral . That idea has some currency, and it is often attributed (rightly or wrongly) to Kant. But on reflection, it is open to question. If it is the case that whenever one has a good reason to benefit someone else for that person’s sake, there is also a second good reason as well—namely, that in doing so one will also benefit oneself—it would be implausible to suppose that one should not let that second reason have any influence on one’s motivation.

Nonetheless, if another point made earlier is correct, there is a serious problem for Aristotle’s eudaimonism. In section 1.2 , we noted that someone is open to criticism if he is always guided by the principle, “I shall never do anything unless doing so is best for me”. Such a person seems insufficiently altruistic, insufficiently willing to make compromises for the good of others. He is (to use the term introduced earlier) never altruistic in the strong sense. Aristotle, it might be said, would have been on firmer ground if he had said that ultimately one should act for one’s own good and that of others . (To be fair to him, he does not deny this; on the other hand, he does say that treating others well never makes one worse off.)

If the project undertaken by Greek and Roman moral philosophy is to begin with the unquestioned assumption that one should never act contrary to one’s own good, and that one’s ultimate end should be only one’s own eudaimonia, it faces the serious objection that it will never be able, on this basis, to give proper recognition to the interests of others. The idea underlying this objection is that we should be directly concerned with others: the fact that an act one performs benefits someone else can already provide a reason for undertaking it, without having to be accompanied by a self -interested reason. There is no argument to be found in ancient ethics –none is offered—that purports to show that the only way to justify having other-regarding motives is by appealing to the good it does oneself to have them.

At the same time, that gives us no reason to dismiss out of hand the efforts made by these authors to show that in fact one does benefit by having altruistic motives. There is nothing morally offensive about asking the question: “is it good for someone to be a good person?” once it is understood that being a good person might be a component of well-being, not a means to further private ends. As noted earlier ( section 1.4 ), certain kinds of excellence are widely assumed to be components of a good life. The examples used there were excellence in the arts, the sciences, and sport. But excelling at ethical life is also a plausible example, since it consists in developing and exercising cognitive, emotional, and social skills that we are pleased and proud to have. In any case, it would be sheer dogmatism to close our minds and refuse to listen to the arguments found in Plato, Aristotle, and the Stoics that ethical virtue is of great value because it is a component (and for the Stoics the sole component) of one’s well-being.

We turn now to the idea, central to one modern approach to ethics, that when we think morally, we reason from an impartial or impersonal perspective. Moral thinking is not self-centered. Of course we all have an emotional bias that attaches special weight to self-interest, and we are often partial to our particular circle of friends or our community. But when we look at the world from a moral point of view, we try to set aside this self-centered framework. Taking a god’s eye perspective on things, we ask ourselves what one ought to do in this or that situation—not what would be good for me or my friends. It is as though we forget about locating ourselves as this particular person; we abstract away from our normal self-centered perspective and seek the solution to a practical problem that anyone similarly impartial would also arrive at.

We can find anticipations or analogues of this idea in ancient ethics—for example, in Plato’s and Aristotle’s recognition that the political community serves the common good rather the interest of some one class or faction; and in the Stoic belief that the cosmos is governed by a providential force that assigns to each of us a distinctive role by which we serve not just ourselves but also the whole. In the ideal city of Plato’s Republic , the family and private property are abolished within the elite classes, because these institutions interfere with the development of a common concern for all individuals. It is not clear how these ideas can be made to fit within a eudaimonistic framework. How can the good of the community serve as the highest standard of evaluation if one’s own good alone is one’s highest end? One way of looking at the history of ethics would be to say that modern ethics salvages the impartialism that occasionally appears in ancient ethics, and rightly abandons its attempt to derive a justification of altruism from a prior commitment to self-interest. Contemporary eudaimonists, of course, would tell a different story (see, for example Annas 1993; LeBar 2013; Russell 2012).

The notion of impartiality has thus far been described in highly general terms, and it is important to see that there are different ways of making it more concrete. One way of doing so is adopted by utilitarians, and more generally, by consequentialists. (The utilitarianism of Bentham 1789, Mill 1864, and Sidgwick 1907 holds that one is to maximize the greatest balance of pleasure over pain—treating pleasure and the absence of pain as the sole constituents of well-being. Consequentialism abstracts away from this hedonistic component of utilitarianism; it requires one to maximize the greatest balance of good over bad. See Driver 2012.) In their calculus, no individual’s good is given greater weight or importance than any other’s. Your own good, therefore, is not to be treated by you as having greater weight as a reason than anyone else’s, simply because it is your own good. The well-being of a human being (or of a sentient creature) is what provides one with a reason to act: that is why one has a reason to take one’s own good into consideration in practical thinking. But the same point applies equally and with equal force to the well-being of anyone else.

But that is not the only way of taking the general notion of impartiality and making it more specific. The general idea, as stated earlier, is that moral thinking, unlike prudential thinking, is not self-centered. One can make this idea more concrete by taking it to mean that there is a single set of rules or norms that apply equally to all human beings, and so the standard by which one answers the question, “what should I do in this situation?” is the standard by which one answers the question, “what should anyone do in this situation?” Someone whose practical reasoning is guided by this condition is abiding by an ideal of impartiality. He makes no special exceptions for himself or his friends.

Suppose, for example, that you are a lifeguard and one afternoon you must choose between swimming north to rescue one group and swimming south to rescue another. The northern group includes your friend, but the southern group, full of strangers, is much larger. The ideal of impartiality described in the previous paragraph does not by itself determine what one should do in this situation; what it requires is simply that it should make no difference that the lifeguard faced with this dilemma is you (and the northern group includes your friend). What you should do, if you are the lifeguard, is what any lifeguard ought to do in that situation. If it is right to take friendship into consideration, when making this decision, then it would be right for anyone to do so. (What would be right, in that case, would be for each individual to choose the good of his or her friend over the good of strangers.)

The consequentialist has a more radical interpretation of what impartiality means and requires. His ideal of impartiality does not allow the lifeguard to take into consideration the fact that by swimming north he will be able to save his friend. After all, the well-being of his friend is not made more valuable simply because that person is his friend. Just as my good is not made more valuable than the good of others simply because it is my good, so too the well-being of my friend deserves no extra weight because he is a friend of mine . So, the lifeguard, according to the consequentialist, must choose to save one group rather than the other solely on the basis of the greater balance of good over bad.

The consequentialist will correctly point out that quite often one is in a better position to promote one’s own good than that of others. As a rule, I have more knowledge about what is good for me than I have about what is good for strangers. It often requires fewer resources for me to benefit myself than to benefit others. I know immediately when I am hungry without having to ask, and I know what kind of food I like. But additional steps are needed to find out when others are hungry and which food they like. These sorts of facts about one’s special relationship to oneself might allow the consequentialist to justify giving somewhat more attention to one’s own well-being than that of anyone else. Even so, there is only one individual who is me; and the number of other individuals whom I can benefit, if I make the effort, is very large. When all of these factors are taken into consideration, it will often be the case that self-interested reasons ought to give way to altruistic motives.

Consequentialism evidently does not recognize certain ways in which each human being has a special relation to her own well-being—a relation different from the one she has to the well-being of others. When each of us becomes an adult, we are normally charged with the special responsibility of having to look after our own welfare. Young children are not expected to be in command of their own lives; they are not yet competent to occupy this role. But the point of their education is to train them so that as adults they can be responsible for themselves. A fully mature person is rightly expected by others to care for someone in particular—namely herself. She is given room to make decisions about her own life but is not given the same kind and degree of authority over the lives of others. If she would like to devote herself to others, she cannot simply do so without receiving their permission, or without taking other steps that make her entry into their lives permissible. Consequentialism, by contrast, regards all adult human beings as equally responsible for the well-being of all. It does not take seriously the idea that our social relations are governed by a division of labor that charges each with a special responsibility for herself—and certain others as well (one’s children, one’s friends, and so on.)

According to the weaker interpretation of impartiality described above, moral rules reflect this division of labor. (By the “weaker interpretation” is meant the thesis that moral thinking avoids being self-centered because it upholds a single set of rules or norms that apply equally to all human beings.) Consider, for example, the duty we normally have to help others, even when they are strangers. If someone is in need, and asks for your assistance, that gives you a reason to help him, and you should do so, provided that compliance with such appeals is not overly burdensome . Notice the escape clause: it builds into the duty to aid others a recognition of the importance of each person having a significant degree of control over his own life. Common sense morality assumes that what we owe to others might call for some sacrifice of our own good, but also that in the ordinary business of life the degree of sacrifice should fall within certain limits, so that we can make good use of the responsibility we have been given as adults to seek our own good. The balance struck by moral rules between the claims of self-interest and the claims of others is what makes it possible for those rules to be recognized and accepted as appropriate. These rules leave us free to volunteer to make greater sacrifices; but such greater sacrifices are not required of us except in extraordinary circumstances (wars, disasters, emergencies).

The three approaches to altruism that we have examined thus far give three rather different answers to the question: “why should one act for the sake of others and not only for one’s own sake?”

Eudaimonism replies that those who act for the sake of others are benefited by having an altruistic disposition.

The consequentialist’s answer begins with the claim that one’s own well-being ought to be of concern to oneself simply because it is someone’s well-being; it should not be of importance to oneself simply because it is one’s own well-being. There is, in other words, no reason why a benefit should go to you rather than someone else just because you are the one who would be receiving it. Accordingly, if one assumes, as one should, that one should act for one’s own sake, then one has no less a reason to act for the good of anyone and everyone else.

If we adopt a weaker interpretation of impartiality, we see the justification of altruism simply by seeing that we have a duty to aid other people in certain circumstances. The moral rule that requires us to help others is a rule that calls upon us to help them not as a means to our own good, but simply in virtue of their need. And we see the rule as justified by recognizing that it strikes a proper balance between our self-concern and the appropriate claims of others.

Notice that both consequentialism and the weaker impartialist position are compatible with the eudaimonist’s thesis that having altruistic motives is a component of one’s own well-being. What these two forms of impartialism reject is the stronger eudaimonistic thesis that one’s ultimate goal should be one’s own well-being and that alone.

That stronger eudaimonistic thesis and consequentialism stand at opposite poles from each other, in the following respect: The first of these poles elevates the self to a position of primacy, since it is only one’s own well-being that constitutes one’s ultimate goal; by contrast, consequentialism, at the opposite extreme, deflates the self to the point where it has no more claim to one’s attention than does any other individual. The weak impartialist attempts to occupy a middle ground.

Yet another conception of impartiality—and a novel argument for the rationality of altruism—can be found in the work of Thomas Nagel. In The Possibility of Altruism (1970), he seeks to undermine both psychological egoism, in its strong form, as defined in section 2.1 above, and its normative counterpart (sometimes called “rational egoism or “ethical egoism”), which holds that one ought to have no direct concern with the good of others. Indirect concern, the ethical egoist grants, can be justified: the good of others may be instrumental to one’s own good, or one might happen to have a sentimental attachment to others. But absent these contingent relations to others, one has, according to the ethical egoist, no reason to care about their well-being.

Nagel doubts that anyone actually is a psychological egoist (1970: 84–85), but his major concern is to refute ethical egoism, by showing that altruism is a rational requirement on action. His idea is not simply that we ought in certain circumstances to help others for their sake; it is also that we are acting irrationally if we do not. That is because it is required of us as rational beings to view ourselves and others from what Nagel calls “the impersonal standpoint”. As he puts it,

to recognize others fully as persons requires a conception of oneself as identical with a particular, impersonally specifiable inhabitant of the world, among others of a similar nature. (1970: 100)

Nagel likens the impersonal standpoint to the prudential policy of regarding all times in one’s life as equal in importance. One has reason not to be indifferent to one’s future because the present moment is not more reason-giving simply by virtue of being present. Similarly, he holds, one has reason not to be indifferent to other people, because the fact that some individual is me is not more reason-giving simply because he is me. Terms like “now” and “later, ” “me and not me” point to no differences that make a rational difference. A time that is later eventually becomes a time that is now; that is why it is arbitrary and irrational to discount the future simply because it is future. Giving greater weight to someone’s good because that person is me is no less irrational.

The “impersonal standpoint”, as Nagel conceives it, is a view of the world from outside it, one that deprives one of information about which individual in that world one is. (It is, in the phrase Nagel chose as the title of his 1986 book, The View From Nowhere .) From this perspective, one need not be a utilitarian or consequentialist—one need not maximize the good, but can abide by the constraints of principles of the right. But certain principles are ruled out from the impersonal standpoint: egoism is, as well as any other principle that gives one individual or group a reason not shared by all others. For example, if someone has reason to avoid pain, that must be because pain—anyone’s pain—is to be avoided. So, it cannot be the case that although I have a reason to avoid pain, others are permitted to be indifferent to my plight, as if that pain were not an objectively bad thing, something that gives only the person who feels it a reason to oppose it. Nagel called such reasons “objective”, as contrasted with “subjective”. Parfit, in Reasons and Persons (1984) , speaks instead of “agent-relative” and “agent neutral” reasons, and subsequently Nagel himself adopted these terms. The critique of egoism in The Possibility of Altruism rests on the thesis that all genuine reasons are agent neutral.

What Nagel’s position and utilitarianism have in common is a perspective that is the opposite of the self-centered world of rational egoism: from the point of view of this self-less perspective, each individual is just a tiny part of a vast universe of moral subjects, each of no more importance or value than any other. Our common sense point of view, moving from our inner life looking outward, lulls us into a massive kind of insularity—a tendency to downplay or ignore the fact that we are just one individual of no greater importance than any other. We put ourselves at the center of our world, and this can only be corrected by stepping back, leaving out of our picture the particular individual one is, and making general judgments about how human beings should behave towards each other. From this perspective, when one person ought to do something, some related requirement is imposed on all others as well –some “ought” statement applies to each.

Nagel is faced with the problem of how to explain why self-interest is not regularly swamped by agent-neutral reasons. If anyone’s pain imposes on all other moral agents a requirement of some sort, then one person’s pain is everyone’s problem. As Nagel says in The View From Nowhere , (using the term “objective standpoint” for the impersonal standpoint),

when we take up the objective standpoint, the problem is not that values seem to disappear but that there are too many of them, coming from every life and drowning out those that arise from our own. (1986: 147)

It would be consistent with this picture to add that the weight of reasons that derive from the situation of other people is extremely small and becomes increasingly so, as they are added together. Therefore, it might be said, they do not often outweigh reasons of self-interest. But that would be an ad hoc stipulation, and would differ only slightly from the egoist’s thesis that the good of others has no independent weight. It is hard to believe that we are forced to choose between ethical egoism (which says that only one’s own pain ought to be one’s direct concern) and Nagel’s conception of impartiality (according to which everyone’s pain ought to weigh on me, because that of others is as bad as my own). The first demands no altruism of us, the second too much.

Some philosophers would say that the approaches to altruism discussed thus far are missing an important—perhaps the most important—ingredient in moral motivation. These approaches, one might say, make altruism a matter of the head, but it is much more a matter of the heart. The eudaimonist can say that we should have a certain amount of fellow feeling, but justifies that emotional response by giving a self-interested reason for being so motivated. The consequentialist seems to leave no legitimate room in our moral thinking for the friendly feelings and love we have for particular individuals, for these sentiments are often at odds with the project of increasing the total amount of good in the world. The weak impartialist says that in certain situations we are to be moved by the good of others, but that is only because there is a moral rule, striking a reasonable balance between oneself and others, that requires one to do so. All three approaches—so the objection goes—are too cold and calculating. They call upon us to treat others in accordance with a formula or rule or general policy. What is most important in human relationships cannot be captured by an approach that begins with a general rule about how to treat others, and justifies a certain way of treating each particular individual simply by applying that general rule.

It would miss the point of this critique if one said, in response, that having an emotional response to the good of others is an effective means of getting oneself to give them the aid they need. (For example, the consequentialist can say that this doctrine does call upon us to act on the basis of friendly feelings and love towards particular individuals, because over the long run relationships solidified by such sentiments are likely to result in a greater balance of good over bad than would colder relationships.) But a defender of the critique put forward in the preceding paragraph would reply that one’s emotional response to the good or ill of others can be assessed as appropriate independently of the effectiveness of one’s emotions as motivators of action. When we feel compassion for the suffering of a particular individual, that reaction is already justified; the suffering of another ought to elicit such a response simply because that is the appropriate reaction. Consider, as an analogy, the proper reaction to the death of a loved one; this calls forth grief and ought to do so, even though grief cannot undo one’s loss. In the same way, it could be said that altruistic feelings are the appropriate response to the good and ill of others, quite apart from whether those feelings lead to results. That does not imply that it does not matter whether one does anything for the good of others. One ought to alleviate their suffering and seek their well-being; that is because this is the proper behavioral expression of one’s feeling for them. If, in the face of the suffering of others, one feels nothing and offers no help, the fundamental flaw in one’s response is one’s emotional indifference, and a secondary flaw is the failure to act that flows from that emotional defect.

According to this “sentimentalist” approach to altruism, the question, “why should one act for the sake of others and not only for one’s own sake?” should not be answered by appealing to some notion of impartiality or some conception of well-being. That would be no better than trying to justify grief by way of impartiality or well-being. The sentimentalist simply asks us to recognize that the situation of this or that human being (or animal) rightly calls forth a certain emotional response, and the help we give is the proper expression of that sentiment.

To assess the role that sympathy should play in our relations with other human beings, it will be helpful to consider Kant’s discussion of this question in the Groundwork of the Metaphysics of Morals (1785). He notes that

many souls are so compassionately disposed that, without any further motive of vanity or self-interest, they find an inner pleasure in spreading joy around them. (4:398)

He is by no means contemptuous of them—on the contrary, he says that they “deserve praise and encouragement” (4:398). But not the highest praise or the strongest encouragement.

What they do not deserve, he says, is our “esteem”, because their motivation “has no genuinely moral worth”. That is because the “maxim” of what they do “lacks the moral merit of such actions done not out of inclination but out of duty” (4:398). Kant means that these people are not following a rule when they help others—a rule, rationally acceptable to all, according to which all those who are in such and such circumstances ought to be helped because it is morally right to do so. (The term “such and such circumstances” is a place-holder for a phrase stating in general terms what those circumstances are.) These compassionate people act instead on an emotional basis: they are pained by the misfortunes of others, and they know that if they offer their help, they will give themselves pleasure. That is a good motive, Kant thinks, but it ought not to be one’s sole or primary reason for helping others.

Kant elaborates on his claim by imagining a transformation in one of these sympathetic and compassionate people: suppose someone’s misfortunes have brought him sorrows that extinguish his feeling for others. He retains his power to “assist others in distress” but now “their adversity no longer stir[s] him”. He feels no “inclination” to help them, but does so nonetheless, simply because he believes he has a moral duty to do so. Kant says that when this happens, this man’s character and his action have “ moral worth”—whereas they had none before. His motive is now “incomparably the highest”—not only is it better than before, but, because it is now a moral motive, it has a kind of value that takes priority over every other kind (4:398).

What should we make of this? To begin with, we should acknowledge that if someone assists another person because he is aware of that person’s suffering and is distressed by it, he may not be acting for the most admirable of motives. For example, if you hear someone crying, and this leads you to help him, you may be motivated solely by your desire for a good night’s sleep, which you could not have had, had he continued to cry. Alleviating his pain was not your ultimate end –it was just a way to quiet him down, so that you could enjoy some peace. We might say that you “did a good thing”, but you don’t deserve any praise or admiration for doing so. But this falls far short of vindicating Kant’s claim. This is not really a case of acting compassionately, because it was not that other person’s suffering you cared about—only his crying, and only because this distressed you.

Before we move closer to the sort of case that Kant is discussing, it will be helpful to engage in a thought experiment due to Robert Nozick (1974: 42–5). He imagines an “experience machine” in which a neuroscientist manipulates your brain so that you can have any experiences of your choosing. Those experiences would be illusory, but they could be as lifelike, rich, and complex as you choose. You might, for example, enter the machine in order to have an experience exactly like that of climbing Mt. Everest; you would be lying on a table with your brain attached to the machine, but it would be exactly as though you were facing great danger, wind, cold, snow, and so on. Nozick claimed that we would not choose to plug into the machine, and rightly so, because there is much of value beyond the experiential component of our lives.

With this device in mind, let’s return to Kant’s compassionate souls who “without any further motive of vanity or self-interest, … find an inner pleasure in spreading joy around them”. We can offer them the opportunity to plug into the experience machine, and it would then seem to them as if they were “spreading joy around them”. They would not in fact be helping anyone, but it would seem to them as though they were, and that would fill them with joy. Clearly, there would be little or nothing to admire in those who would enter the machine on these terms. But what about a compassionate person who refuses this offer, and prefers to find joy in actually helping people—not merely in seeming to help them? To be more precise, we might offer someone the following choice: (a) You will experience great joy in the machine, imagining yourself to be helping others; (b) you will experience less joy outside the machine, but it will be joy taken in actually helping others. A genuinely compassionate person would choose (b). He would be giving up a certain amount of pleasure in order to be of use to others. And there is certainly something admirable about that.

According to Kant, however, there is still something of great worth that is missing in the motivation of this genuinely compassionate person, willing though he is to make some sacrifice in his own well-being for the sake of others. His reason for helping is not that it would be morally wrong to fail to do so—wrong because he would be violating a moral rule that makes it a duty for him to help them. What motivates him to aid others is simply that he is inclined to do so. If he did not take any pleasure in being of assistance, he would not do so.

We should agree with Kant that there are situations in which it would be morally wrong for one person to refuse to help another, whether that person has fellow feeling for others or not. For example, suppose a child needs to be taken to the hospital, and it so happens that you can do so at some small cost or inconvenience to yourself. Although this child is a stranger to you, you are someone who finds children adorable and likes to be with them. And so you willingly accompany the child to the hospital. Your love of children is admirable, but you would still be subject to criticism, if that were your sole motivation for assisting this child. By hypothesis, in the situation we are imagining, it would be wrong to refuse—and yet the wrongness of refusing, by hypothesis, is not one of your motives.

But Kant’s point is of limited application, for there are many other kinds of situation in which assisting others for their sake is admirable but not a moral duty. Suppose, for example, a novelist takes time away from her work each day in order to read to blind people in her community. She does not have a moral obligation to assist those people; she helps them because she loves books and she wants to spread the joy she takes in literature to others. Perhaps at some point in the future, her interests will change—she might no longer write novels, and she might get no pleasure from reading to others. She might then no longer volunteer to read to the blind. Kant must say that the help given by this writer does not deserve our “esteem” and “has no genuinely moral worth”, because she acts from inclination rather than duty. But it is implausible to withhold these words of praise. The author does not read to others merely as a means to advance her career or her own well-being. Although she enjoys reading to others, she may believe that it would be better for her to spend more of her time working on her own writing projects. She makes some sacrifices because she believes that other people’s lives will improve if she can instill in them the joy she takes in these books. Surely her motives have “moral worth” in the normal sense of that term: her reason for acting is to help others.

Recall Kant’s thought experiment in which a person full of sympathy and compassion suffers severe misfortunes that extinguish all of his feeling for others. He is still able to benefit others, and he still has a strong sense of duty. Kant seems to be implying that if such an individual continues to “assist others in distress” because he sees that he has a duty to do so, then there is no moral defect in him at all. His motivation, on the contrary, is exemplary, because it has “moral worth” (unlike the motivation of the individual who is moved by inclination and fellow feeling). Surely Kant is right that we ought not to lower our opinion of him merely because he has experienced severe misfortunes—assuming that he did not bring them on himself. He says that the adversity of others “no longer stir[s]” this poor soul, and presumably he would add that this emotional condition is not this unfortunate man’s fault either. But even if there is nothing blameworthy in this man’s emotional indifference to the good of others, it is also true that his relationship with others has been damaged . He cannot respond to others as he should. Lacking any inclination to spread joy to others, when he undertakes projects that fulfill his duty to promote their happiness or diminish their unhappiness, he will do so in a joyless, dutiful manner, thereby tarnishing the relationship he ought to have with them. If, for example, he volunteers to read to the blind, he will be unable to communicate to them a love of literature—for he himself feels no “inner pleasure” when he reads, and has no inclination to help others, due to his own suffering. When he receives news of his adult children’s misfortunes, he will not respond with sympathy or compassion—such news will simply leave him cold (although he will fulfill his parental duties, if his assistance is morally required). It would be appropriate, then, to say that this man exhibits significant moral defects. He lacks the motivation to act towards others as he should, and to feel for others as he should.

We are now in a better position to sort through the package of ideas labeled “sentimentalism” in preceding sections, and to recognize that some are far more plausible than others.

First, we should accept the sentimentalist thesis that one’s feelings can be assessed as fitting or unfitting on grounds other than their causal effect on one’s actions. We should, for example, care about what happens to our children even when we can do nothing to help them; that emotional response is appropriate because it is part of what it is to be a good parent. This point allows us to concede that in certain situations one ought to try to suppress an emotional response that would normally be appropriate. If one has a duty to minister to many people who are suffering, one may be more effective in aiding them if one keeps oneself from feeling the emotions that are fitting. A nurse working in a war zone, for example, might save more lives if she trains herself, for now, to feel little emotion when she hears the moans and cries of the wounded. She has reason to feel compassion, but that is overridden by stronger reasons to act effectively to relieve their burden.

A closely related sentimentalist point that should be accepted is that aiding someone in need, but doing so in a manifestly cold, affectless, or hostile manner is, in many situations, a defective response.

A second idea associated with sentimentalism in section 4.4 was this:

what is most important in human relationships cannot be captured by an approach that begins with a general rule about how to treat others, and justifies a certain way of treating each particular individual simply by applying that general rule.

The kernel of truth in this statement is that some of the most valuable components of our lives are not available by following a rule. We do not fall in love with people by applying a general principle, standard, or criterion about whom we ought to fall in love with. We do not develop a passion for mathematics, or history, or tennis, by seeing these pursuits as specific instances of something more general that we care about. Some of the most valuable components of our lives are available to us only if they arise spontaneously from feelings that respond to the lovable features of the world or the people in it.

But that leaves a great deal of room for the project of treating people in accordance with rules that we accept because they survive our rational scrutiny. For example, it would be absurd to suggest that we should abstain from torturing someone if (but only if) we have an untutored and negative emotional reaction to torturing him. With respect to torture, we need to respond to a general question: are there circumstances in which it would be justified? (And to answer that question, we must first ask: what is torture?) The only way to address these questions is one in which we reason our way towards a general policy—a rule, however simple or complex, that governs the use of torture. And surely such a rule should be impartial—it should be a single rule that applies to all, not tailored to serve the interests of some nations or factions to which we belong.

The same point applies to questions about everyday rules that govern such acts as promise-keeping, lying, theft, and other kinds of suspect behavior. Here too we rightly expect each other to have a general policy, one that takes these sorts of actions to be wrong in normal circumstances. That a promise has been freely made is normally a decisive reason for keeping it; someone who keeps a promise only if he has a positive feeling about doing so would not be treating others as they rightly expect to be treated. (For opposing views, see Dancy 2004; Ridge and McKeever 2006.)

A third question about the relation between our sentiments and altruism arises when we ask about the proper basis for charitable giving. Consider, for example, someone who donates money to an organization devoted to fighting cancer, and chooses to do so because his mother has died of cancer. His gift is an expression of his love for her; it is meant, of course, to do good to others, but those others are chosen as beneficiaries because he takes the reduction of this disease to be an appropriate expression of his feelings for her. Utilitarianism cannot easily accept this form of altruism, since it begins with the premise that charitable acts, like everything else, are right only if they do the most good—and it could easily be the case that money allocated to cancer research would do more good if donated to some other humanitarian cause. But if one does not presuppose the truth of utilitarianism, it is not difficult to defend the practice of choosing one charity over another on the basis of one’s sentimental attachments. If friendships and other loving relationships have a proper place in our lives even if they do not maximize the good, then sentiment is an appropriate basis for altruism. (For an opposing view, see Singer 2015.)

That does not entail that it is always right to follow our feelings when we decide whether to help this person or organization rather than that. Suppose you belong to a group dedicated to reducing the number of people who die in drowning accidents, and you are on your way to an essential meeting of this organization. If you miss the meeting, let us suppose, the group will have to suspend its operations for many months—with the result that the number of drownings will remain high. On your way, you pass a child who is in danger of drowning, and cries for your help. You must choose: either you can save this one child, or you can attend the meeting and thereby save many more from drowning. When you hear the child’s cries for help, you cannot help responding emotionally; it would be cold and calculating to pass him by, even if in doing so you will be saving many more. What ought you to do?

The fact that your emotions are fully aroused by the child’s cries does not have the same bearing on this issue as does the love felt by a son for his departed mother in the previous example. The drowning child whose cries fill you with compassionate feeling is a stranger to you. So your alternatives in this case are whether to help one stranger (the one who is tugging at your heartstrings) or many (whom you do not see or hear at the moment). It would not be implausible to hold that sentiment plays an appropriate role in altruism when it is the expression of a long-term and meaningful bond, but not when it is a short-lived reaction to the cries of a stranger.

We have found no reason to doubt that we both can and should be altruistic to some extent. To what extent? Utilitarians and consequentialists have an exact answer to that question: one is to give equal weight to the good of every human being (or every sentient creature), counting oneself as just one small part of that universal good. If that is more altruism than can be required of us, the better alternative is not to retreat to the other extreme (egoism). Rather, how much altruism is appropriate for an individual varies according to that individual’s situation in life.

Altruism is not necessarily admirable. It is to be admired only in circumstances in which it is appropriate to act for another’s sake—and only when what one aims to do for another really does benefit that individual. If one seeks what one takes to be the good of others for their sake, but is mistaken about what is really good for them, one’s action is defective. Altruism is fully admirable only when combined with a correct understanding of well-being.

What is wrong with those who do not care about others for their sake? It could be the case that such individuals are themselves worse off for their lack of altruistic motivation. That is what a eudaimonist must say, and we have not objected to that aspect of eudaimonism. It could also be the case that there is a failure of rationality among those who are never altruistic or insufficiently altruistic. But it should not be assumed that there must be something else that goes awry in those who are not altruistic or not altruistic enough, beyond the fact that when they ought to have cared about some individual other than themselves, they failed to do so.

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altruism: biological | altruism: empirical approaches | egoism | empathy | impartiality | morality: and evolutionary biology | moral particularism | reasons for action: agent-neutral vs. agent-relative | well-being

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The idea that helping others is part of a meaningful life has been around for thousands of years. Aristotle wrote that finding happiness and fulfillment is achieved “by loving rather than in being loved.” According to the psychologist Carol Ryff, who reviewed the writings of numerous philosophers throughout history, relationships with others are “ a central feature of a positive, well-lived life .”

Yet today many of us seem to be struggling to find meaning by gathering up achievements, spending so much time at work that we’re cut off from other people.

Are we headed down the wrong path? New research is providing more and more evidence that kind and helpful behavior causes us to feel that our lives are meaningful, and discovering what we can do to reap those benefits.

Relationships and the meaningful life

helping others often involves great sacrifice essay

Often, psychologists have distinguished between two types of well-being: hedonic well-being (a sense of happiness) and eudaimonic well-being (a sense of meaning and purpose). Although happiness and meaning overlap significantly, researchers suspected that helping others is especially crucial to developing a sense of meaning.

A recent study by Roy Baumeister at Florida State University sought to investigate this and other differences between happiness and meaning. In a survey of over 300 participants, the researchers looked for traits and behaviors that were related to happiness (but not meaningfulness) and vice versa. The researchers found that having strong social connections was important for both happiness and meaningfulness. However, helping others in need and identifying oneself as a “giver” in relationships were related to meaning alone. 

Baumeister points out that a meaningful life is different for everyone (since the cultural messages we have been exposed to can impact what we see as meaningful). However, the research on meaning in life points to one factor that appears to be important for all of us: developing high-quality relationships.

Does helping promote a sense of meaning?

But does behaving in a kind and helpful way (“prosocially”) actually cause us to feel that our lives have more meaning? While it may seem intuitive that helping others goes along with a meaningful life, it’s possible to imagine a variety of different explanations for this: Perhaps those who feel like their lives have meaning are more motivated to help others, or perhaps some other factor (for example, being religious) causes people to be helpful and experience more meaning in their life.

A recent article published in The Journal of Positive Psychology by Daryl Van Tongeren and his colleagues sought to examine this relationship. In a preliminary study, the researchers asked over 400 participants to report on how frequently they engage in different altruistic behaviors (such as volunteering) and how meaningful their life feels. Participants who were more altruistic reported a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives.

More on Kindness

Practice kindness (and boost your sense of meaning in life) with these practices:

  • Random Acts of Kindness : Feel happier by doing things for others.
  • Feeling Connected : A writing exercise to foster connection and kindness.
  • Loving-Kindness Meditation : Strengthen feelings of kindness and connection toward others.
  • Reminders of Connectedness : A subtle way to induce kindness, particularly in kids.
  • Encouraging Kindness in Kids : Praise kids in ways that make them more kind.

In a second study, the researchers sought to assess whether expressing gratitude , which is considered a prosocial emotion , could actually cause participants to report a greater sense of meaning. In this study, some participants wrote letters of gratitude to someone who had impacted their lives, while some participants wrote about other topics. The researchers found that participants who wrote gratitude letters subsequently reported that their lives were more meaningful than did other participants. Importantly, this study addresses the issue of causality; since participants were randomly assigned to write about gratitude or other topics, it appears that expressing a prosocial emotion actually increased their sense of purpose.

Why does helping make life more meaningful?

According to Van Tongeren, engaging in altruistic acts may allow us to find fulfillment because it improves our relationships. To test out this idea, the researchers asked participants about their prosocial behavior, meaning in life, and level of relationship satisfaction. They found that prosocial behavior and meaning in life were linked, and that relationship satisfaction—in other words, the quality of people’s relationships—partially accounted for that link.

Another factor that might come into play is detailed in a 2010 study published in The Journal of Personality and Social Psychology . According to this article, when we choose to engage in prosocial actions, it helps to meet our basic psychological needs: for autonomy (feeling that we have freely chosen our actions), competence (feeling that we are good and capable), and relatedness (feeling close to others).

In one study testing this idea, participants were either allowed to choose to give money to someone else in the study, or told by the researchers how much money to give. For participants who freely chose how much to give (although not for participants who were told how much to give), giving more money was related to higher well-being and to feeling that their psychological needs were met. Importantly, that feeling accounted for the link between giving and well-being, suggesting that giving may improve well-being because it helps us meet our psychological needs.

Taken together, these two studies suggest that helping others is beneficial because it fulfills basic human needs—and that altruism may be especially important for strengthening our relationships and connecting us with others.

How to increase your sense of meaning

The research described above suggests that giving helps us feel more connected to others, which imbues our lives with a sense of meaning. Do you want to live a more meaningful life? The suggestions below can help you take the first steps.

  • Start small. You don’t need to begin with grand gestures; even small, everyday behaviors can have an impact on others and on your own sense of well-being. For example, in a study published in Science , spending just five dollars on someone else led to boosts in happiness. The Eliciting Altruism practice includes strategies for starting a habit of kindness and generosity, such as reminding yourself of your connections to others and identifying with individuals who may need your help.
  • Make your helping count. It turns out that not all types of giving have the same effects on us. The Making Giving Feel Good practice offers strategies for how to help others in a way that boosts your own sense of happiness and well-being. In particular, helping others can be especially effective when you can see the specific impact that your actions have.
  • Take time to thank others. As the research presented here has shown, expressing gratitude towards others can be a prosocial act, too. When others take time to do something nice for you, making them feel appreciated can help build your relationship with them and make your life more meaningful. This exercise offers suggestions for how to write a Gratitude Letter like the ones in Van Tongeren’s study.

Recent research has provided evidence to support the idea that helping others goes hand in hand with meaningfulness. It’s not just that people who have already found their purpose in life enjoy giving back. Instead, helping others can actually create the sense of meaning we’re seeking. Rather than ruminating on what makes our life worthwhile as we work toward burnout, we can find the answer outside ourselves, in human connection.

About the Author

Headshot of Elizabeth Hopper

Elizabeth Hopper

Elizabeth Hopper, Ph.D. , received her Ph.D. in psychology from UC Santa Barbara and currently works as a freelance science writer specializing in psychology and mental health.

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Reflection Essay My Passion is Helping Others

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helping others often involves great sacrifice essay

Why Is It Important to Help Others? (18 Reasons)

Whether it’s holding the door open for someone or offering a shoulder to cry on, there’s something inside us that wants to reach out and make a difference in another person’s life. And when we act on that feeling, something amazing happens—we start to feel good, too.

But it’s more than feeling good; it’s about creating a community where kindness is like a language we all speak.

Imagine if we all did just one kind gesture every day—how much brighter could our world be? Let’s explore the incredible impact of helping others, both for those we help and for ourselves.

Table of Contents

Helping Others Boosts Your Happiness

Helping others improves your mental health, helping others promotes social connection, helping others increases your sense of purpose, helping others enhances your self-esteem, helping others supports those in need, helping others cultivates gratitude in your life, helping others encourages a positive outlook on life, helping others fosters empathy and compassion, helping others encourages personal growth, helping others creates a ripple effect of kindness, helping others can open new opportunities, helping others can improve relationships, helping others provides a sense of belonging, helping others breaks down social barriers, helping others promotes a culture of giving, helping others empowers the disadvantaged, helping others strengthens values in younger generations, frequently asked questions, final thoughts.

When you lend a hand to someone in need, it’s not just their day that gets a little brighter—you also light up from the inside. It’s like when you surprise a friend with their favorite snack. You can’t help but smile at their joy, right?

The “ Happiness Boomerang “:

  • You do something kind for someone.
  • Your brain releases happiness chemicals .
  • You feel motivated to perform more kind acts.

It’s a cycle that benefits everyone involved. Think of it like helping your neighbor carry in their groceries. It might seem like a small act, but it can significantly impact your day. You start off wanting to help, and in return, you end up feeling happier and more fulfilled.

When we focus on the needs of others, we’re taking a break from our own troubles. This distraction can be a powerful tool in managing stress and anxiety. It’s a sort of mental vacation where we get to leave our worries behind and immerse ourselves in acts of kindness.

Engaging in volunteer work or simple acts of helping can:

  • Lower stress levels by diverting our attention from our own problems.
  • Increase our sense of belonging, making us feel more connected and less isolated.
  • Boost our self-confidence as we recognize our ability to make a difference.

Consider the example of joining a community clean-up. Not only are you contributing to a greener planet, but you’re also engaging with others who share similar values, reinforcing your sense of purpose and belonging. This collective effort to make a difference can significantly elevate your mental well-being.

One of the beautiful things about helping others is the bridges it builds between people. Whether it’s through community service or simply lending a hand to a neighbor, these acts of kindness forge bonds that might not have existed otherwise. It’s all about creating a network of support and understanding among individuals.

  • By reaching out to help, you’re likely to meet new people with similar interests.
  • Working together on a common goal brings a sense of camaraderie.
  • These connections can turn into lasting friendships.

A simple example could be organizing a clean-up day at a local park. Not only does this benefit the environment, but it also brings together people who care about their community. By the end of the day, participants often feel more connected to their community and to each other, having shared not just work but laughter and stories.

Feeling like you have a purpose in life is like having an inner compass that guides you. Helping others can make that compass point even clearer. When we help someone else, we see firsthand the impact we can have. This makes us realize that what we do matters and that we have a role to play in the world.

This sense of purpose comes from:

  • Knowing we can make a difference.
  • Seeing the positive change in others’ lives.
  • Feeling we are contributing to something bigger than ourselves.

For instance, when you help younger people navigate challenges and watch them grow and succeed, it reinforces your sense of value and purpose. You’re not just moving through life; you’re making a difference in someone else’s life, and there’s nothing more purposeful than that.

When you help someone, you’re also giving yourself a powerful gift: a boost in self-esteem. Every act of kindness you perform is like a small reminder that you have the power to make a positive difference. This can be incredibly affirming and uplifting.

Consider this simple scenario: Helping an elderly neighbor with their groceries may seem like a small act, but it’s a significant affirmation of your ability to contribute positively. You walk away feeling better about yourself, not just because you did something good but because you were able to impact someone’s day positively.

This increase in self-esteem comes from:

  • Recognizing your own value through your actions.
  • The appreciation and thanks you receive from those you’ve helped.
  • The personal satisfaction of knowing you’ve made a positive impact.

Whether it’s emotional support during tough times or physical assistance to get through the day, we all find ourselves in need. This is where the power of community and generosity comes into play. By offering our help, we’re not just doing a good deed; we’re providing a lifeline.

  • People facing financial hardships might need basic necessities.
  • Individuals going through emotional distress might need a listening ear.
  • Communities struck by natural disasters require hands-on assistance to rebuild.

Imagine you’re part of a group that helps rebuild homes after a natural disaster. The gratitude and relief in the eyes of the homeowners not only fuel your motivation to keep helping but also remind you of the tangible difference your actions make.

Supporting those in need reinforces the idea that, collectively, we have the power to overcome substantial challenges.

When you step out of your world to help someone in theirs, something magical happens: you start to see the abundance in your own life. This isn’t about comparing struggles; it’s about recognizing the gifts you have and understanding how you can share them with others. This process naturally leads to a stronger feeling of gratitude.

Gratitude emerges when you:

  • Witness the immediate impact of your help on someone else.
  • Reflect on your ability to contribute positively to someone’s life.
  • Realize the interconnectedness of our experiences and the power of giving.

Let’s say you’ve helped tutor a student for free, and they pass an important exam. The joy and relief they feel are shared with you, and suddenly, the hours spent tutoring seem like a small price for the huge reward. This scenario fosters a deeper appreciation for your own skills and circumstances, embedding a profound sense of gratitude in your daily life.

Engaging in acts of kindness is a beautiful way of lifting our spirits and cultivating a more optimistic view of the world. When we commit to helping others, we’re often faced with situations that challenge us to look for the good in life, even during tough times.

This positive outlook is not just about wearing rose-colored glasses; it’s about recognizing that every act of kindness makes a difference and that goodness abounds.

By focusing on what we can do for others, our own problems can seem more manageable and life’s challenges less daunting. We start to see the world as a place of opportunities to make a positive impact rather than a series of obstacles.

This shift in perspective can have a profound effect on how we approach our daily lives, making us more resilient, more hopeful, and more inclined to see the good in people and situations.

When we step into the shoes of another person, especially those who are struggling or experiencing hardship, it naturally nurtures our sense of empathy and compassion. These aren’t just fancy words; they are the feelings that connect us deeply to others and motivate us to offer a helping hand.

For example, consider a situation where you help out at a shelter for the homeless. As you listen to their stories, you begin to understand their challenges from a personal perspective.

This experience can transform the way you view the world and your relationship with those around you. By:

  • Understanding their situation  – You gain insights into their struggles.
  • Feeling with them  – You share in their emotional experience.
  • Acting to help  – You’re motivated to make a positive difference in their lives.

This cycle of empathy and compassion enriches our interactions and makes us more humane and caring individuals.

Engaging in acts of kindness and support for others isn’t just about the good we do outside ourselves; it’s also about how these actions transform us.

Every time we help someone else, we’re stepping out of our comfort zones and facing new challenges. This pushes us to grow in ways we might not have expected.

Here’s what happens:

  • We learn new skills, like leadership or communication , which are invaluable in personal and professional life.
  • We’re confronted with situations that challenge our perspectives, making us more open-minded .
  • We discover strengths we didn’t know we had, building confidence in our ability to make a difference.

Imagine organizing a fundraiser for a local charity. From planning to execution, you’re not just raising money; you’re learning project management, team coordination, and public speaking.

As we reflect on these experiences, we realize that every act of giving and helping not only impacts the lives of those around us but also shapes us into better, more capable individuals.

Your act of kindness doesn’t end with the person you help; it inspires them and others who see or hear about your deed, to pass on kindness in their own ways.

Here are some ways this ripple effect can manifest:

  • A story shared:  Your act of kindness becomes a story that the person you helped shares with others, inspiring them.
  • An inspired observer:  Someone who sees your act of kindness is motivated to perform their own act of kindness.
  • A community movement:  A small act of kindness within a community can inspire a collective effort, fostering a culture of support and generosity.

An example of this effect in action could be as simple as paying for the coffee of the person in line behind you. This small gesture can make someone’s day brighter, encouraging them to help another and continuing the chain of kindness.

This ripple effect has the power to transform communities, making the world a kinder, more compassionate place for all.

When you step out to help others, you’re also opening doors for yourself in ways you might not expect. Volunteering, mentoring, or even just being there for a friend in need can lead to meeting new people, learning new skills, and sometimes even discovering new career paths.

Helping others can lead to:

  • Networking:  You never know who you might meet while volunteering. It could be someone who introduces you to your next job opportunity.
  • Skill Development:  Many volunteer positions offer training in areas you might not have explored otherwise.
  • Career Exploration:  Helping in different fields can give you a taste of careers you might want to pursue.

The act of giving not only enriches the lives of those you help but can also carve paths you never expected to explore, making your own life richer and more fulfilled.

Have you ever noticed how sharing a task or working together to help someone else can make you feel closer to the people you’re with? This is because helping others often requires communication, empathy, and cooperation—key ingredients for strong relationships.

For instance, when a group of friends comes together to organize a surprise birthday party for another friend, they share experiences, work towards a common goal, and ultimately strengthen their bond.

Similarly, when family members support each other during tough times, their relationship deepens through the shared experience of giving and receiving help.

These shared experiences can lead to:

  • Deeper understanding and empathy between individuals.
  • Increased trust and mutual respect.
  • Memories and experiences that form the foundation of long-lasting relationships.

One of the beautiful things about helping others is that it gives us a sense of being part of something greater than ourselves. Whether it’s participating in a local fundraiser, joining a community clean-up, or supporting a global cause, these activities connect us with a community of people who share similar values and goals.

  • Community Engagement:  Being active in community efforts.
  • Shared Goals:  Working towards a common purpose.
  • Mutual Support:  Giving and receiving help.

Engaging in acts of service allows us to experience a strong sense of unity and camaraderie, reminding us that we are not alone. It highlights the importance of community and the role each of us plays in fostering a supportive environment where everyone feels welcome and valued.

Acts of kindness and support have the powerful ability to transcend the boundaries that often divide us. Whether these are based on race, nationality, age, or socio-economic status, helping each other allows us to see beyond these differences.

Consider a community meal program where people from all walks of life come together to cook, serve, and share a meal. Such moments remind us of our shared humanity and the things we have in common rather than what separates us.

By uniting to support one another, we can:

  • Overcome prejudices and misconceptions.
  • Foster a better understanding and appreciation of diverse perspectives.
  • Build inclusive communities where everyone feels respected and valued.

This breaking down of barriers not only enriches our personal lives but also strengthens the social fabric of our communities, creating spaces where compassion and understanding prevail over division and isolation.

Creating a culture where giving and supporting one another is a norm can transform communities. By setting an example through our actions, we encourage others to do the same, leading to a domino effect of kindness.

Schools, workplaces, and neighborhoods can all play a role in fostering this environment. For instance, a company could implement a program that matches employee donations to charities, or a school might organize a service day where students and teachers come together to work on community projects.

These are ways how we can create a culture of giving:

  • Lead by Example : Show others the joy and value of giving.
  • Encourage Group Efforts : Team up for larger community projects.
  • Celebrate Acts of Kindness : Recognize and appreciate the efforts of others.

This collective effort not only addresses immediate needs but also builds an enduring ethos of care, support, and generosity that can last for generations.

When we extend our hand to help those who are disadvantaged, we do more than just provide aid; we empower them. This empowerment can come in many forms, from educational support that opens up new opportunities to financial assistance that helps start a small business.

Such acts of help can change the trajectory of someone’s life, providing them with the tools they need to build a better future for themselves and their families.

Consider a mentoring program for young people from underprivileged backgrounds. By offering guidance, support, and resources, we can:

  • Boost their confidence in their abilities.
  • Help them set and achieve personal and professional goals.
  • Provide them with the knowledge and skills needed to succeed.

This kind of assistance goes beyond temporary relief; it lays the foundation for lasting change, enabling individuals to break the cycle of poverty and disadvantage.

By actively engaging in kindness and philanthropy, we demonstrate values like compassion, empathy, and responsibility. These values can deeply influence young minds, instilling in them a strong moral compass and a willingness to contribute positively to society.

For instance, involving children in community service projects, such as a charity walk or a food bank drive, offers valuable lessons in teamwork and generosity. It helps them understand the importance of looking out for others and the impact that collective efforts can have on addressing community needs.

Through these experiences, kids learn that:

  • Helping others is a rewarding and fulfilling part of life.
  • They have the power to make a difference in the world.
  • Kindness and compassion are strengths that bring people together.

As these values take root in the younger generation, they grow up equipped to face the challenges of their time with empathy and action, ensuring a legacy of kindness and mutual support for years to come.

What if my help is rejected?

If your offer to help is rejected, respect the other person’s decision and don’t take it personally. People have various reasons for declining help, and it’s important to honor their autonomy. You can let them know you’re available if they change their mind and look for other ways or people who might benefit from your support.

How can individuals overcome the fear of reaching out to help?

Overcoming the fear of reaching out to help involves recognizing the value of your contribution, no matter how small, and understanding that everyone has something valuable to offer.

Starting with small, manageable acts of kindness can build confidence, and witnessing the positive impacts of your actions can motivate further efforts.

Are there any risks involved in helping others?

While helping others is generally a positive experience, there can be risks, such as overcommitting oneself, encountering emotionally distressing situations, or unintentionally upsetting the recipient of help.

Mitigating these risks involves being mindful of your limits, seeking guidance when dealing with complex situations, and always respecting the wishes and autonomy of those you are assisting.

Every act of kindness, no matter how small, contributes to a larger wave of goodwill that benefits everyone involved. It reminds us that at the heart of it all, we’re not so different; we’re all just people looking to make life a little brighter for someone else.

So, let’s take this to heart and look for chances to be kind every single day. It doesn’t have to be something big. Sometimes, the smallest gesture can mean the world to someone. By committing to spread kindness, we’re not just helping others; we’re shaping a world that’s a little warmer, a little kinder, and a lot more connected.

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Bea Mariel Saulo

Bea is an editor and writer with a passion for literature and self-improvement. Her ability to combine these two interests enables her to write informative and thought-provoking articles that positively impact society. She enjoys reading stories and listening to music in her spare time.

Student Essays

Essay on Essay on helping others

11 Best Written Essays on Helping Others in Life-Need & Importance

Helping others refers to an act whereby human beings help the fellow human in one way or the other. The concept of helping others has strong basis upon respecting, identifying and accepting the needs and issues of others and taking practical steps to resolve others issues. The following Essay on helping others talks on why helping others is important in our life, why we need to mutually support and cooperate other people in life.

1. Essay on Helping Others in Life |Need, and Importance of Helping others in Life

Helping others in the times of need is the basic instinct of human nature. It is the feeling of happiness and satisfaction that comes with being able to help someone in need that drives us towards doing good deeds. It is not only restricted to lending a helping hand during difficult times but also extends to small, everyday gestures that make a big difference in the lives of others.

>>>> Read Also : ” Essay on My Idea of Happy Life “

There are many benefits of helping others in life. The most obvious one is that it makes us feel good about ourselves. When we help someone in need, our brain releases serotonin, which is a hormone that makes us feel happy and satisfied. It also gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in life. Helping others allows us to connect with people on a deeper level and form meaningful relationships. It also gives us a sense of belonging and strengthens our bond with the community.

Apart from the personal satisfaction that comes with helping others, there are also many practical benefits. Helping others can boost our career prospects and open up new networking opportunities. It can also lead to positive changes in our society. When we help others, we set an example for others to follow and inspire them to do good deeds as well.

>>>> Read Also : ” Short Paragraph On Friendship & Its Importance  “

Therefore, helping others is not only beneficial for the person in need but also for the helper. It makes us feel good about ourselves and gives us a sense of purpose and meaning in life. It also has many practical benefits that can boost our career prospects and lead to positive changes in our society. So, next time you come across someone who needs help, don’t hesitate to lend a helping hand. It will make a big difference in their life and yours too.

2. Essay on helping others is Important:

Helping others is a fundamental aspect of human nature. We are all connected in this world, and our actions have the potential to impact those around us. Whether we realize it or not, helping others can bring immense satisfaction and fulfillment into our lives.

The act of helping others goes beyond just lending a hand or offering material assistance. It’s about showing compassion, empathy, and understanding towards others. It’s about being there for someone when they need it the most, without expecting anything in return. Helping others is not just a selfless act; it can also be a source of personal growth and development.

One of the main reasons why helping others is important is because it promotes a sense of community and belonging. When we help others, we create a sense of unity and togetherness, which is crucial for building strong relationships and fostering a supportive environment. It can also help break down barriers and promote understanding between different individuals or groups.

Furthermore, helping others can have a ripple effect in the community. When one person helps another, it often inspires others to do the same. This creates a domino effect of kindness and can lead to significant positive changes in society.

Helping others is also crucial for our own personal well-being. Studies have shown that acts of kindness can boost our mood, reduce stress and anxiety, and even improve our physical health. When we help others, we release feel-good hormones like serotonin and oxytocin, which can contribute to overall happiness and well-being.

Moreover, helping others can provide a sense of purpose and meaning in life. In today’s fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and lose sight of the bigger picture. By helping others, we are reminded that there is more to life than just ourselves and our own struggles.

It’s also important to note that helping others does not always have to be a grand gesture. Simple acts of kindness and compassion, such as listening to someone who is going through a difficult time or offering words of encouragement, can make a significant impact on someone’s life.

In conclusion, helping others is crucial for our own personal growth and well-being, as well as for creating a more compassionate and supportive society. It may seem like a small act, but the impact it can have on someone’s life is immeasurable. So let’s all strive to make helping others a priority in our lives and spread kindness wherever we go.

3. Short Essay on Helping Others:

Helping others is a selfless act that brings about joy, contentment and fulfillment in one’s life. It is an innate human characteristic to extend our hands towards those who are in need and offer whatever assistance we can provide. Whether it be helping a friend with their studies, aiding a stranger on the street or volunteering at a local charity organization, lending a helping hand not only benefits the receiver but also brings about a sense of satisfaction and purpose to the giver.

In today’s fast-paced world, where individualism and self-centeredness are on the rise, acts of kindness and generosity towards others have become scarce. However, it is important for individuals, especially students, to recognize the importance of helping others and make it a part of their daily lives.

By helping others, we not only make a positive impact on their lives but also contribute towards building a better society. Small acts of kindness, such as volunteering at a homeless shelter or donating clothes to those in need, can go a long way in making a difference in someone’s life.

Additionally, by actively participating in community service and helping those less fortunate, students can develop a sense of empathy and compassion towards others, which are essential qualities for building strong relationships and fostering a more inclusive society.

Moreover, helping others can also have positive effects on one’s mental health. Research has shown that individuals who engage in acts of kindness and generosity tend to experience lower levels of stress, anxiety, and depression. This is because helping others releases feel-good hormones such as oxytocin, dopamine and serotonin, which can help reduce stress and improve overall well-being.

Furthermore, lending a helping hand can also serve as a learning experience for students. By actively engaging in community service or volunteering at organizations that work towards social causes, students can gain valuable skills such as teamwork, leadership, and communication

4. Short Essay on Motivation for helping others:

Motivation is a powerful force that can drive individuals to act in ways that benefit not only themselves, but also those around them. One of the most selfless and altruistic forms of motivation is the desire to help others.

Helping others can take many forms, from volunteering at a local charity or donating money to a worthy cause, to simply lending a helping hand to a friend or stranger in need. But why do some people have such a strong motivation to help others, while others seem more focused on their own interests?

Research has shown that there are various factors that can contribute to an individual’s motivation for helping others. These may include personal experiences, values and beliefs, cultural influences, and even genetics.

For some people, the desire to help others may stem from a personal experience of receiving help themselves. This can lead to a sense of gratitude and a desire to pay it forward by helping others in need.

Others may be driven by their values and beliefs, such as the belief in equal rights and opportunities for all individuals. These individuals may see helping others as not only a moral obligation, but also as a way to create a more just and equitable society.

Cultural influences can also play a role in an individual’s motivation for helping others. In some cultures, the concept of community and collective well-being is highly valued, which can lead to a strong desire to help others in need.

Lastly, research has also suggested that genetics may play a role in an individual’s level of empathy and compassion, which can in turn influence their motivation to help others.

In conclusion, the reasons for an individual’s motivation to help others are complex and multifaceted. But regardless of the underlying factors, one thing is clear: helping others brings about a sense of fulfillment and purpose that cannot be achieved through self-interest alone.

5. College essay on helping others:

As a college student, it is easy to get caught up in our own personal goals and obligations. With the pressure of maintaining good grades, participating in extracurricular activities, and building a strong resume for future job prospects, helping others may not always be at the top of our list. However, being selfless and giving back to those in need can have numerous benefits for college students.

First and foremost, helping others is a great way to gain perspective and appreciate the things we have in our own lives. Many of us are fortunate enough to have access to higher education, a privilege that not everyone in the world has. By volunteering our time and efforts to help those less fortunate, we can learn to be grateful for what we have and gain a deeper understanding of the struggles and challenges faced by others.

In addition, helping others can also provide valuable learning opportunities. Through volunteering or participating in community service projects, college students can develop important skills such as leadership, communication, and problem-solving. These skills are not only beneficial for personal growth but are also highly valued by potential employers. Volunteering can also expose students to diverse cultures and perspectives, promoting a more well-rounded and empathetic outlook on life.

Moreover, by helping others, we can make a positive impact in our communities and contribute to the greater good. Whether it is through organizing a fundraiser for a local charity or tutoring students in need, our actions can have a meaningful impact on the lives of those around us. By being active members of our communities, we can create a ripple effect of kindness and inspire others to do the same.

Lastly, helping others can also have a positive impact on our mental health. Studies have shown that acts of kindness and generosity can increase happiness, reduce stress and anxiety, and improve overall well-being

6. Essay on Kindness to others:

As human beings, we have the ability to choose how we treat others. One of the most powerful ways we can impact those around us is by displaying kindness. It may seem like a small gesture, but showing kindness to others can have a ripple effect that extends far beyond what we could ever imagine.

Kindness is defined as the quality of being friendly, generous, and considerate. When we show kindness to others, we are displaying empathy and compassion towards them. It can be as simple as offering a smile, lending a helping hand, or listening without judgment.

The power of kindness lies in its ability to bring people together. In a world that is often divided by differences, acts of kindness can bridge the gap and create connections. It allows us to see beyond our own perspective and understand the struggles of others. It reminds us that we are all human and deserve love and respect.

Not only does kindness benefit those who receive it, but also those who give it. Studies have shown that acts of kindness can boost our mood, increase happiness, and reduce stress. It can even lead to a healthier heart and improved relationships.

In our fast-paced world, it’s easy to get caught up in our own lives and forget about those around us. But kindness doesn’t have to be a grand gesture. It can be as simple as holding the door open for someone, saying “thank you,” or offering a compliment. These small acts of kindness may seem insignificant, but they can make a huge difference in someone’s day.

Furthermore, kindness is not limited to only those we know. It can also be extended to strangers. In fact, random acts of kindness towards strangers can have an even greater impact as it shows that there are still good and caring people in the world.

7. Inspirational Story on helping others:

Once upon a time, in a small village surrounded by lush green fields and blooming flowers, there lived a young boy named Rohan. He was known for his kind heart and willingness to help others without expecting anything in return.

Rohan grew up with his parents who were farmers. They taught him the importance of hard work and helping those in need. Every day, Rohan would help his parents in the fields, and after finishing his chores, he would spend time with the villagers.

The villagers adored Rohan for his kind nature and willingness to lend a helping hand. They often shared stories of how he had helped them during difficult times. But little did they know that Rohan’s kindness was not limited to just humans.

One day, a severe storm hit the village and destroyed most of the crops. The villagers were worried about how they would survive without food. Rohan’s parents were also affected by the storm, and they had no other option but to leave their village in search of better opportunities.

Seeing his family and villagers in distress, Rohan knew he had to do something. He remembered how his parents had taught him to help others in need, and he decided to put that lesson into practice.

Rohan went from house to house, asking the villagers if they needed any help. He helped them fix their homes, gather whatever food was left after the storm, and even offered his own food supplies to those who needed it desperately.

However, Rohan’s helping nature did not end there. He ventured into the forest to find wild fruits and berries, which he distributed among the villagers. Some even called him a hero for his selfless acts.

But Rohan remained humble and continued to help without seeking recognition or praise. His kindness was contagious, and soon other villagers joined in to help each other during difficult times.

Slowly but steadily, the village was back on its feet, and the crops were growing again. Everyone in the village had learned an important lesson from Rohan – that helping others not only benefits them but also brings joy and satisfaction to oneself.

Years passed, and Rohan grew up to be a kind-hearted man who continued to help those in need. The villagers never forgot his acts of kindness, and they passed on his lessons to their children and grandchildren.

Rohan’s selfless actions had a lasting impact on the village, and it became known as the village of kind-hearted people who always helped each other. And Rohan’s name was remembered for generations to come as a symbol of kindness and compassion.

From this story, we can learn that helping others is not just about lending a hand during difficult times, but it is also about spreading kindness and making the world a better place. As they say, “No act of kindness, no matter how small, is ever wasted.” So let us all follow Rohan’s example and make helping others a way of life

8. Essay on helping hand:

In our fast-paced and competitive world, the concept of a “helping hand” has become more important than ever before. In simple terms, a helping hand refers to an act of assisting or supporting someone in need. This could be in the form of physical, emotional, or financial support.

One might argue that the idea of extending a helping hand is not new and has been a part of our society for centuries. However, the changing dynamics of our global community have made it even more crucial for individuals to lend a helping hand to those around them.

In today’s world, where people are constantly chasing success and material possessions, there is a growing sense of isolation and loneliness among individuals. This is where the concept of a helping hand comes into play. By reaching out and supporting those in need, we not only make a positive impact on their lives but also create a sense of community and belonging.

Moreover, extending a helping hand is not only beneficial for the receiver, but it also has several benefits for the giver as well. It allows us to step outside of our own problems and focus on someone else’s needs. This can bring a sense of purpose and fulfillment in our lives. Additionally, helping others can also boost our self-esteem and confidence, knowing that we have made a positive difference in someone’s life.

Furthermore, a helping hand can also have a ripple effect. By assisting one individual, we may inspire them to pay it forward and help others in need. This creates a chain reaction of kindness and compassion, ultimately leading to a more caring and supportive society.

In today’s interconnected world, where news of tragedies and disasters spread rapidly, it is easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. However, by extending a helping hand to those affected, we can make a tangible difference and contribute towards rebuilding communities and lives.

In conclusion, the concept of a helping hand is more relevant now than ever before. It not only benefits individuals in need but also has positive effects on our own well-being and society as a whole. So let us all strive to be someone’s helping hand and create a world where kindness and compassion are the norm rather than the exception. As the saying goes, “A helping hand is no farther than at the end of your sleeve.” So let us all extend our sleeves and lend a helping hand whenever possible. And remember, every act of kindness matters.

9. Short Essay on how helping others benefit you:

Helping others is a fundamental human trait that has been ingrained in our society for centuries. It is an act of kindness that not only benefits the recipient, but also brings immense joy and satisfaction to the person who is offering help. In this short essay, we will explore how helping others can have a positive impact on your life.

Firstly, helping others allows us to develop empathy and compassion. When we lend a helping hand to someone in need, we put ourselves in their shoes and try to understand their struggles. This helps us build stronger connections with others and become more understanding individuals. Moreover, by seeing the impact of our actions on others, we learn to appreciate what we have and not take things for granted.

Secondly, helping others can boost our self-esteem and confidence. When we use our skills and knowledge to assist someone, it gives us a sense of purpose and accomplishment. This, in turn, helps us feel more confident about ourselves and our abilities. It also reminds us that we are capable of making a positive impact on others’ lives.

Thirdly, helping others can improve our mental health. It is a well-known fact that acts of kindness can release feel-good hormones in our brain, such as oxytocin and endorphins. These hormones are responsible for making us feel happy and content. By helping others, we can reduce stress, anxiety, and depression levels in ourselves and others around us.

In addition to the above benefits, helping others also allows us to expand our social circle and make meaningful connections. When we volunteer or engage in acts of kindness, we meet like-minded individuals who share the same values as us. This can lead to long-lasting friendships and a sense of belonging.

Lastly, helping others is a powerful way to contribute to society and make a positive impact on the world. By giving back to our communities, we can create a ripple effect of kindness and inspire others to do the same. This can lead to a more empathetic and compassionate society, creating a better world for future generations.

10. Short Essay on Satisfaction Comes from Helping Others:

We’ve all heard the saying, “It’s better to give than receive.” And while it may sound cliché, there is truth to this statement. There is a certain sense of satisfaction that comes from helping others. Whether it be through volunteering, lending a helping hand, or simply being there for someone in need, the act of helping others brings a sense of fulfillment that cannot be replicated by any material possessions.

So why is it that helping others brings us satisfaction? One of the main reasons is that it gives us a sense of purpose. In today’s fast-paced world, we often get caught up in our own lives and forget about the needs of those around us. By taking the time to help someone else, we are reminded that there is more to life than just our own personal pursuits. We are able to make a positive impact on someone else’s life and in turn, feel good about ourselves.

Moreover, helping others allows us to step outside of our comfort zones and gain new perspectives. It’s easy to get stuck in our own routines and thought patterns, but when we help someone else, we are exposed to different ways of thinking and living. This can broaden our understanding of the world and also help us appreciate what we have.

Another aspect of helping others that brings satisfaction is the connections we make with people. When we lend a helping hand or volunteer, we are often working alongside like-minded individuals who share similar values and goals. These shared experiences can lead to meaningful relationships and a sense of belonging.

Furthermore, the act of helping others can also boost our own self-esteem and confidence. By making a positive impact on someone else’s life, we are reminded that we have something valuable to offer. This can give us a sense of purpose and worth that may have been lacking before.

In conclusion, while it may seem counterintuitive, true satisfaction does not come from acquiring material possessions or achieving personal success. It comes from the act of helping others and making a positive impact in their lives. So, let us strive to be kind, empathetic, and selfless individuals who find joy in giving rather than receiving. As Mahatma Gandhi once said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

11. Short Essay on My Greatest Passion is Helping others:

My greatest passion in life is helping others. For as long as I can remember, I have always had a strong desire to make a positive impact on the world around me. Growing up, my parents instilled in me the value of kindness and compassion towards others, and this has stayed with me throughout my life.

I believe that there is no greater joy than being able to bring a smile to someone’s face or make their day a little bit brighter. Whether it is through small acts of kindness, volunteering my time, or using my skills and knowledge to help those in need, I am always looking for ways to lend a helping hand.

One of the reasons why helping others is my greatest passion is because it allows me to connect with people from all walks of life. I have had the opportunity to work with individuals from different backgrounds, cultures, and experiences, and each interaction has taught me something valuable. By helping others, I am also able to learn and grow as a person.

Furthermore, helping others is not just about making a difference in someone else’s life; it also brings immense fulfillment and happiness in my own life. Knowing that I have made a positive impact, no matter how small, fills me with a sense of purpose and motivates me to continue helping others.

In today’s world, where there is so much negativity and division, I believe that acts of kindness and compassion towards others are more important than ever. My greatest passion for helping others will always be a driving force in my life, and I hope to inspire others to do the same. After all, as Mahatma Gandhi said, “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others.”

Q: How do you write an essay about helping others?

A: To write an essay about helping others, start with an introduction that highlights the significance of the topic, provide examples and personal experiences to support your points, discuss the benefits of helping others, and conclude with a strong summary.

Q: Why is it important to help others essay?

A: An essay on why it’s important to help others emphasizes the value of compassion, empathy, and the positive impact that helping others can have on individuals, communities, and society as a whole.

Q: What is the importance of helping others?

A: The importance of helping others lies in fostering empathy, building stronger communities, and creating a more compassionate and interconnected world.

Q: Why am I passionate about helping others?

A: Your passion for helping others may be driven by the sense of fulfillment, the opportunity to make a meaningful difference in people’s lives, a desire to contribute to positive change, and personal values or experiences that underscore the importance of altruism and empathy.

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Essay Samples on Helping Others

How can you help your community: a pathway to positive change.

The question of how you can help your community is not merely a theoretical inquiry; it's an invitation to action and a testament to the power of individual agency in creating positive change. In a world marked by diverse challenges, every individual possesses the ability...

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Helping My Community: A Journey of Impact and Empowerment

Helping my community is not just a mere notion; it's a personal commitment that fuels my desire to contribute to positive change. In a world that presents numerous challenges, taking an active role in improving the lives of those around me is both a responsibility...

Helping Others and Fostering a Collaborative Relationship

Learning how to create and nurture collaborative relationships with others is an essential leadership skill. This can be done with other volunteers and members and brought back to your day-to-day job. The importance of collaborative relationships seems to be understated in most cases. There are...

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Helping Others as the Main Goal of Volunteering Activities

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The Philosophical Term Altruism in Psychology

The term altruism, benevolence, compassion empathy, fellow feeling, sympathy and love (despite distinctions among them) all that refer to behavior that has it's aim to produce, maintain or improve the physical or psychological welfare and integrity of another persons. The term describe the behavior that...

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Be The Change You Wish To See In The World: A Story

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The Traits That Make Up A Hero: What It Means To Be A Hero

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The Truth Behind What It Means To Be A Hero

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The Experience Of Being A Nurse And Caregiver

During my time as a nurse, I saw many patients become less independent due to aging and disease. I was able to see through family members and coworkers that it is our responsibility to advocate for these patients. After interviewing a caregiver, I was able...

Avoiding Caregiver Burnout: Helping Yourself

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The Emotional Exhaustion Of The Profession Caregiver

Stress and Burnout emphasizes emotional, physical, and mental exhaustion in a person. It takes place when one if feeling overwhelmed, or emotionally. Emotional exhaustion will have one feeling used up or drained. It gives an individual the feeling that they cannot accomplish their goal. Depersonalization...

The Neglect Experienced By Caregivers

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Definition Of Heroism As A Self Deserving Act

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Community Service: Should It Be Mandatory

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The Working Poor: Helping The Poor And Needy

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United States Social Policies And Their Impact On The Working Poor Of America

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Making World A Better Place By Helping Others

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Reasons Why We Should We Help The Homeless On Campus

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Beneficence And Nonmaleficence As One Of The Principles Of Medical Ethics

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Service Learning as A Learning Methodology

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Helping Other People In Maus

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Importance to Increase Awareness for the Voluntary Blood Donation

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Why I Like Being A Helpful Person

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Why Helping the Community Brings Me Joy

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Theme Of Helping Others In Film Patch Adams

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Fun and Serious In Film Patch Adams

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Propaganda Awareness: Pay It Forward.

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The Positive Impact of Volunteering

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The Role of Volunteering in Community and Personal Development

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The Many Difinitions of Volunteering

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Helping Elders Is Engrained in the Chinese Culture

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A Career In Medical Sciences – My Path To Helping Others

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Best topics on Helping Others

1. How Can You Help Your Community: A Pathway to Positive Change

2. Helping My Community: A Journey of Impact and Empowerment

3. Helping Others and Fostering a Collaborative Relationship

4. Helping Others as the Main Goal of Volunteering Activities

5. The Philosophical Term Altruism in Psychology

6. Be The Change You Wish To See In The World: A Story

7. The Traits That Make Up A Hero: What It Means To Be A Hero

8. The Truth Behind What It Means To Be A Hero

9. The Experience Of Being A Nurse And Caregiver

10. Avoiding Caregiver Burnout: Helping Yourself

11. The Emotional Exhaustion Of The Profession Caregiver

12. The Neglect Experienced By Caregivers

13. Definition Of Heroism As A Self Deserving Act

14. Community Service: Should It Be Mandatory

15. The Working Poor: Helping The Poor And Needy

  • Career Goals
  • Actions Speak Louder Than Words
  • Cohabitation

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People helping one another Essay

Introduction, relationship, to repay good deeds, the need to be helped later, temperament.

The mind of the human being is the organ that drives all other organs into motion. Behind every act that a human being does there is a reason. One of the natures of human beings is helping those who are in need. This is based on various reasons. This paper analyses the reasons that lead to persons helping others. Among the items discussed in this paper are; the relationship between persons, the need to be helped later, to repay a good deed and the temperamental basis.

One of the basic reasons that lead to people helping one another is the relationship between the helper and the person in need. This more so happens when the two person are related by blood. A need of a blood relative is seen as a personal need to all other blood relatives and thus they would offer a hand in helping the needy come out of problem (Cash, 2002). The responsibility that one bears for a blood relative is usually not meant to be repaid.

Similarly, it is common for persons who are related by marriage to help one another. The need of a husband, wife or a fiancé is also taken by the helper as a personal need. The degree of closeness may differ from that of blood relationship. However, the weight that is carried in both cases is relatively similar. In most instances, persons offer to help their life partners in priority to blood relatives.

In this group also lie the persons who help because they have been requested to help. This group of people rarely helps willingly. They either perceive themselves incapable of offering the help or find they help as unfit or not necessary. Also there are persons who are mean in nature. Such persons can only offer help when they have been requested to do so (Cash, 2002).

Every person has been helped to reach where he or she is at one point or the other. A child is helped by her parents to grow, the neighbors, teachers, and relatives also give a hand in life. There is also help that has been received from friends and strangers. All this help is repaid in different ways. For the help received from parents, the child may repay it by helping the parents at their point of need or by helping his or her own children.

For the help that is received from all other persons, it is repaid almost in the same manner. A person may offer help directly to the persons who helped him or her or may offer help to others in remembrance of the good deeds that he or she has received form other people (Cash, 2002).

A person who has been treated well from childhood has a great likelihood of treating others well than a person who was brought up in harsh and un-conducive environment.

There is also a group of people who help anticipating that the persons whom they have helped will rise to the occasion should they have a need. This group of people will always be the first to contribute to others when they have a need and will always like to be recognized that they have offered their help.

The help that comes from this kind of people is at times seen as an act of dystopia. Such persons always imagine of bad things happening like death, accidents, injuries, attacks and other misfortunes. Lack of recognition of help from such persons can lead to quarrels between the helper and the persons helped (Mattern, 2007). To this people, helping others is bait or a bribe of being helped in future.

The human race is divided into different temperaments. The behavior of a person is thus attributable to the temperament that he or she belongs to. The likelihood to change a person from his or her temperament is very hard. The persons that belong to temperaments that are outgoing and extroverts are usually ready to help other people irregardless of the relationship or the amount of help that they might receive form the persons that they have helped.

The persons who fall under this category are usually public figures who do not have any relationship with the persons that they help. This group of people takes the need of every other individual as their own needs (Mattern, 2007).

As we have seen through the paper, man has different reason for helping fellow human beings. Though the reasons for help may differ, the ability to help also matters. There are those people who have the will of helping but lack the ability to help.

However, helping others is humane and the reasons for giving help not withstanding, there is no man who can make it without the help of others; whether materially, politically, psychologically or even socially. The persons receiving help have to be aware of the above reasons so as to know what actions are expected of him after receiving help.

Cash, A., (2002). Psychology for dummies. New York: Dummies.

Mattern, J., (2007). Do You Help Others ? New Jersey: Gareth Stevens, Inc.

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People Pleasing and Self-Destruction

Helping others feels undeniably good—but when does helping become a hindrance.

Posted June 19, 2020 | Reviewed by Lybi Ma

Helping others feels undeniably good. The positive vibes we get from helping rewards our sense of purpose and meaning. It is understandable that the secondary gain we get from helping ( identity rewards) would also be a compelling motivator for selfless behavior.

We all know someone who takes this to the extreme. Maybe some of us are guilty of this ourselves. Selfless behavior can be addicting for certain personalities. Well, maybe not addicting exactly, but it can become habitual and even automatic, sometimes at one’s own detriment.

When does helping become a hindrance?

According to the author of The Liberated Self: A People Pleaser’s Guide to Better Relationships, people who rely on helping as a primary source of self-identity need to be mindful of the internalized trap this can establish. “While helping others is intrinsically rewarding, it is important to pay attention to one’s own judgments and assumptions about it.”

The author notes that people pleasers are prone to self-sacrifice and often put the needs of others above their own; this can result in a lot of conflicting feelings. “People pleasing behavior inevitably ends in resentment, because when our own needs are put aside to focus on everyone else’s needs, that throws the relationship out of balance in terms of power and equality.

People pleasers inadvertently set themselves up for disappointment.” These feelings can also result in negative self-evaluation and low self-esteem .

Image by DanaTentis via pixabay

The trap of people pleasing:

The trap of people pleasing can be mitigated with careful observation and practice. Understanding your own motivations for the behaviors and assessing the positive and negative outcomes can go a long way. It can also be useful to explore the underlying values that may contribute to a certain behavioral choice.

Let’s say someone was short on money but chose to give their last bit of cash to a friend who also needed it, causing themselves further financial hardship. If we first explore the pros and cons of this action, we might come up with something like this:

Helped a friend in need

Felt good to help

  • Created feeling of goodwill
  • Enhances identity as a giving person
  • My own needs are ignored
  • Increased financial problems
  • Stress level increased

Do the pros outweigh the cons of people pleasing?

The thing is, even if there are more reasons why one should engage in a self-sacrificing behavior, the weight of each item is unequal. Looking at underlying values is an important next step.

People Pleasing and Cognitive Dissonance:

You may discover that you have some values that conflict with others, which can create cognitive dissonance . In this situation, perhaps an important value for the giver is generosity . The feeling of giving is rewarding that value.

Another value for the giver might be stability.

By giving funds when one didn’t have enough to even meet one’s own needs, it compromises the giver’s sense of stability, increasing stress levels. While it may feel great to give in this situation, it creates an inner conflict because it undermines the giver’s own emotional wellness.

If our own sense of emotional and physical wellness isn’t a priority, we are in jeopardy. “There is a sense of piety that selfless behavior brings, but piety without compassion for oneself is a recipe for people-pleasing misery.

We are culturally inclined toward valuing selfless behavior, but it needs to be tempered with a healthy dose of self-love,” Cookson states.

People pleasers can (and should) examine ways to meet one’s value of helping without detrimental self-sacrifice. Helping others shouldn’t result in hurting oneself.

Cookson, Paula. The Liberated Self: A People Pleaser's Guide to Better Relationships. Unbelievable Freedom LLC (February 10, 2020), 2020.

Mcleod, Saul. “Cognitive Dissonance.” Cognitive Dissonance Theory | Simply Psychology, 2018, .

Teyhou Smyth Ph.D., LMFT

Teyhou Smyth, Ph.D., LMFT , teaches psychology at the Graduate School of Education and Psychology at Pepperdine University.

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helping others often involves great sacrifice essay

Self Sacrifice: Finding Balance Between Giving and Self-Care

  • Felix Prasetyo
  • Updated February 29, 2024
  • February 29, 2024

Table of Contents

Ever thought about putting others’ needs before your own? That’s the heart of self-sacrifice. It’s that moment when you give up something precious for someone else’s benefit. It’s not just about grand gestures; sometimes, it’s the small acts of kindness that truly count.

Diving into the world of self-sacrifice, you’ll find it’s a complex blend of altruism and personal growth. It’s about understanding the balance between helping others and not losing yourself in the process. Ready to explore how this noble act can change lives and perspectives? Let’s immerse.

Overview of Self Sacrifice

Self sacrifice isn’t just a high-minded concept; it’s a daily reality filled with actions big and small. You’ve witnessed it, maybe you’ve lived it. That moment when someone puts their needs on the back burner to help another? That’s the heart of self sacrifice.

Research shows that acts of self sacrifice are often rooted in attachment . When you’re attached to someone—a friend, a family member, even a pet—your natural inclination is to support and protect them. Studies in psychology suggest that strong attachments can boost the likelihood of self-sacrificial behavior. Think of parents working extra shifts to afford their child’s education, or a friend lending a listening ear after a tough day. These actions stem from a bond that prioritizes the well-being of another over personal convenience.

But self sacrifice extends beyond personal attachments. It can manifest in gestures aimed at larger communities or causes. Donating to a charity, volunteering for environmental clean-ups, and advocating for social justice are all forms of self sacrifice where the attachment is to a broader goal or collective need rather than an individual.

Self sacrifice is a complex blend of altruism and personal growth. Engaging in self-sacrificial acts doesn’t just benefit the receiver; it fosters a sense of fulfillment and identity in the giver. This interplay between giving and growing demonstrates the multifaceted nature of self sacrifice. It’s not just about what you give up but also what you gain in understanding, compassion, and connection.

Embrace the moments of self sacrifice in your life, recognizing them as opportunities for growth and deeper connection. Whether it’s lending a hand without expecting anything in return or stepping back so others can step forward, self sacrifice shapes not just the lives of those you help but your own journey as well.

The Meaning of Self Sacrifice

Definition of self sacrifice.

Self-sacrifice is all about putting the needs and well-being of others ahead of your own. It’s that moment when you’ve only got one slice of pizza left and you offer it to your friend who’s still hungry, knowing deep down your stomach won’t forgive you. But it’s also much more profound than pizza dilemmas. It involves actions driven by genuine concern for others, sometimes at a significant personal cost. Think of firefighters who rush into blazing buildings or a parent working two jobs to ensure their child can attend college. These acts aren’t just for show; they stem from a place of deep care and attachment to those they’re helping.

The Importance of Self Sacrifice

You might wonder, why go through all this bother? Why not just focus on your own happiness and let everyone else handle their own issues? Well, self-sacrifice plays a critical role not only in maintaining societal bonds but also in personal growth. Research suggests that acts of self-sacrifice can strengthen relationships, creating a deeper sense of attachment and trust between individuals. It’s like when you lend your favorite book to a friend, knowing well that it might return with dog-eared pages, but the joy it brings them makes it worth the risk.

Also, self-sacrifice often leads to a stronger sense of identity and fulfillment. There’s something incredibly rewarding about knowing your actions have made a positive impact on someone else’s life. It’s as if by helping others, you carve out a more significant place for yourself in the world. Interestingly, studies have shown that people who engage in self-sacrificial behaviors tend to report higher levels of happiness and satisfaction with life. So, in a way, while you’re busy lifting others, you’re also giving yourself a hefty boost.

Remember, self-sacrifice doesn’t always mean going to extreme lengths. Simple acts of kindness, like listening intently to someone’s problems without glancing at your phone or volunteering a few hours at a local shelter, are potent forms of self-sacrifice. It’s about being attached to something bigger than yourself and recognizing the power of putting others first.

Examples of Self Sacrifice in History

Self sacrifice in war.

Right off the bat, let’s talk about wars. They’re not just battles and strategies; they’re stories of intense self-sacrifice. Soldiers, often driven by a strong attachment to their country and comrades, have performed acts of bravery that define self-sacrifice. Take, for example, medics who dash through gunfire to save a fallen comrade or soldiers who throw themselves on grenades to protect their squad. These aren’t just actions; they’re powerful statements about putting others’ lives before one’s own.

Self Sacrifice in Medicine

Moving to a different battlefield, the medical field is rife with self-sacrifice. Doctors, nurses, and medical workers, attached to the well-being of their patients above all, often work long hours in high-risk environments, especially noticeable during pandemics. Historical figures like Florence Nightingale and Dr. Li Wenliang have become icons of self-sacrifice in medicine, dedicating their lives, sometimes at great personal cost, to the care of others. These professionals embody the essence of self-sacrifice by prioritizing the health and safety of the public over their own.

Self Sacrifice in Social Movements

When it comes to social movements, self-sacrifice takes on a more collective form. Individuals deeply attached to a cause or a community have often placed themselves in harm’s way to champion rights and justice. Civil rights activists like Martin Luther King Jr. or suffragettes who fought for women’s voting rights showcased tremendous self-sacrifice. They endured imprisonment, physical harm, and societal backlash with the belief that their struggles would lead to a greater good for future generations. Their attachment to their cause and the wider community drove them to acts of self-sacrifice that have shaped history.

The Psychology of Self Sacrifice

Motivations Behind Self Sacrifice

You might wonder why someone would put themselves in harm’s way for others. Well, the motives behind self-sacrifice are as varied as they are fascinating. At the heart of these acts lies a complex mix of altruism, empathy, and the deep-seated need for social connection. Research shows that altruism —the selfless concern for the well-being of others—plays a significant role.

People often act out of empathy , feeling a powerful connection to the plight of others and an irresistible urge to help. Then there’s the attachment factor. Those with strong attachments to family, friends, or causes often find themselves more inclined to act in self-sacrificing ways. It’s like your Mom diving into a messy school project the night before it’s due—except on another level.

The Impact of Self Sacrifice on Mental Health

Engaging in self-sacrifice can be a double-edged sword for your mental health. On one side, it’s been linked with profound personal growth and a heightened sense of fulfillment. You know, that warm, fuzzy feeling you get when you’ve done something good for someone else without expecting anything in return? Yeah, that’s it.

But, it’s crucial to strike a balance. Constant self-sacrifice without regard for personal well-being can lead to burnout, stress, and even resentment. Studies highlight the importance of maintaining a healthy boundary between helping others and taking care of oneself. It’s a bit like being told you should put your oxygen mask on first before helping others – it’s not selfish; it’s necessary.

By understanding the psychological underpinnings of self-sacrifice, you’re better equipped to engage in such acts more healthily and sustainably. Essentially, it’s about finding that sweet spot where you can be there for others without losing yourself in the process. And remember, even heroes need a break.

The Ethics of Self Sacrifice

Is self sacrifice always noble.

You might think self-sacrifice is the ultimate act of nobility, but let’s dive a bit deeper. Is it always noble to put others before yourself? Experts in ethics and psychology argue that the context greatly matters.

For instance, donating blood to save a life is a universally applauded act of self-sacrifice. But, consistently neglecting your needs to the detriment of your health or happiness might not be noble but rather a misplaced sense of duty. Research shows that motivations for self-sacrifice can range from genuine altruism to a desire for social approval or a deep-seated need to feel needed.

Attachment plays a significant role here. People deeply attached to family, friends, or causes are more likely to engage in self-sacrificial behaviors. Yet, it’s crucial to question whether these actions stem from a healthy place. Does sacrificing your well-being genuinely benefit those you’re attached to, or does it create an unsustainable dynamic?

Balancing Self Sacrifice with Self Care

Finding the sweet spot between helping others and taking care of yourself isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. You’ve probably heard the saying, “You can’t pour from an empty cup.” Well, it’s not just a cliche; it’s backed by science. Studies indicate that people who maintain a healthy balance between self-sacrifice and self-care are not only happier but also more effective in their altruistic endeavors.

Here’s how you can start balancing the two:

  • Recognize the signs of burnout. Constant tiredness, irritability, and feeling overwhelmed are red flags.
  • Set healthy boundaries. It’s okay to say no or to limit the help you offer to what’s reasonable and sustainable for you.
  • Incorporate self-care rituals. Whether it’s a hobby, exercise, or simply quiet time, make sure to recharge your batteries.

Self-care isn’t selfish; it’s a critical component of being able to help others sustainably. Remember, looking after yourself doesn’t mean you’re not committed to those you’re attached to. It means you’re ensuring you’re in the best position to support them, without sacrificing your own well-being. Your ability to help others can actually grow when you’re healthy, both mentally and physically.

So, next time you’re contemplating a self-sacrificial act, consider not only the immediate benefits but also the long-term effects on both you and those you’re attached to.

The Rewards of Self Sacrifice

Personal Growth and Fulfillment

When you think of self-sacrifice, personal growth and fulfillment might not be the first benefits that come to mind. Yet, diving into self-sacrifice often leads to profound personal development. Studies show that acts of giving, even in small doses, can enhance your sense of wellbeing. For instance, helping out a neighbor or volunteering at a local charity not only benefits those you’re helping but also enriches your life with purpose and happiness. This isn’t just feel-good fluff; it’s backed by research demonstrating that altruistic behavior can boost your mood and even lead to longer life spans.

Getting attached to causes or communities beyond your immediate concerns allows you to develop a deeper sense of identity. You begin to see yourself not just as an individual, but as a crucial part of a larger narrative. Each self-sacrificial act, then, isn’t a loss but an investment in this greater sense of self. Personal growth isn’t always about climbing mountains or hitting personal bests in the gym; sometimes, it’s about the quiet strength gained from putting others first.

Building Strong Relationships

Let’s talk relationships. Self-sacrifice is like the secret sauce to building stronger, more meaningful connections. When you put the needs of friends, family, or even that one coworker you barely know before your own, you’re doing more than just a good deed – you’re laying the bricks for deeper, more resilient attachments. People tend to reciprocate kindness, so your acts of self-sacrifice often come full circle, strengthening the bonds you share.

Being deeply attached to someone often means you’re willing to sacrifice for their happiness or well-being. This isn’t about grand gestures; even the smallest acts can amplify the sense of trust and loyalty in a relationship. Remember, it’s about the quality, not the quantity, of these gestures. Researchers have found that partners who regularly engage in self-sacrificial acts report higher satisfaction within their relationships. This doesn’t mean you should lose yourself to the needs of others but finding that balance can make your connections richer and more gratifying.

So, whether it’s lending an ear to a friend in need or going the extra mile for your partner, these moments of self-sacrifice can weave stronger threads of attachment and trust in your relationships. And as you navigate the complex dance of give-and-take, you’ll likely find that the more you give, the more you’re bound to receive – in friendship, love, and the rich world of human connection.

The Power of Self Sacrifice

You might not wake up thinking about how to sacrifice your time or resources today, but embracing the power of self-sacrifice could change your life—and someone else’s—in unexpected ways. It’s all about finding the sweet spot where your actions positively impact others while also enriching your own life.

Studies show that self-sacrifice, or putting others’ needs before your own, isn’t just noble; it’s beneficial for you too. For example, psychologists argue that acts of giving are often linked to increased well-being. Think of those moments when you’ve helped a friend move or donated to a cause you care about. Sure, you might’ve lost a Saturday or some cash, but didn’t you feel pretty great afterward?

Self-sacrifice also deepens attachments. Whether it’s with family, friends, or a broader community, sacrificing your time or energy for the benefit of others strengthens bonds. It’s like, by giving a piece of yourself, you’re actually building stronger connections.

But let’s get real for a second. There’s a study from the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology that highlights a fascinating twist: individuals who engage in self-sacrifice for the sake of their relationships report higher levels of personal fulfillment. So, while you’re out there thinking you’re only helping your buddy, your brain’s getting a healthy dose of happiness hormones.

Before you go out and give away all your worldly possessions or sign up for every volunteer opportunity under the sun, remember it’s about balance. Sacrificing for others should not come at the cost of your own well-being. It’s possible to be too attached to the idea of self-sacrifice.

In essence, self-sacrifice has the power to elevate your sense of purpose and connection in life. But it’s crucial to approach it with a mindset that seeks harmony between helping others and preserving your own health and happiness.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is self-sacrifice.

Self-sacrifice involves putting the needs of others before your own. It can manifest through both grand gestures and everyday acts of kindness, focusing on altruism and personal growth.

Can self-sacrifice lead to personal growth?

Yes, engaging in self-sacrificial acts not only benefits the recipient but also promotes a sense of fulfillment and identity in the giver, leading to personal growth and increased well-being.

How does self-sacrifice affect relationships?

Self-sacrifice can strengthen relationships and create deeper connections by prioritizing the needs of others, which leads to more meaningful and stronger attachments.

Is self-sacrifice always beneficial?

While self-sacrifice can yield immense rewards such as enhanced well-being and deeper relationships, it’s crucial to recognize signs of burnout and maintain a balance with self-care to prevent adverse effects.

How can one balance self-sacrifice with self-care?

Finding a balance involves recognizing the importance of your own needs alongside others’. It’s essential to set healthy boundaries, practice self-care rituals, and ensure that acts of giving do not deplete your own well-being.

helping others often involves great sacrifice essay


Felix Prasetyo is the founder and publisher at Lifengoal, covering relationships, social skills, and personal growth. Felix holds a degree in Computer Science from the University of British Columbia, and has also contributed to other media publications such as and YogiApproved.

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10 benefits of helping others

28 April 2020

Volunteering your time, money, or energy to help others doesn’t just make the world better—it also makes you better. Studies indicate that the very act of giving back to the community boosts your happiness, health, and sense of well-being.

'Do something great' neon sign

Here are 10 benefits of lending a hand to those in need.  Remember, before you start any type of volunteering you should check out the advice on safe volunteering during COVID-19 from the Students’ Union.

1. Helping others feels good

There is some evidence to suggest that when you help others, it can promote physiological changes in the brain linked with happiness.  This heightened sense of well-being might be the byproduct of being more physically active as a result of volunteering, or because it makes us more socially active.

2. It creates a sense of belonging

Helping others can help us to make new friends and connect with our community.  Face-to-face activities such as volunteering at a food bank can also help reduce loneliness and isolation.

3. It gives you a sense of purpose

Studies show that volunteering enhances an individual’s overall sense of purpose and identity.  This is because helping others can make you feel rewarded, fulfilled and empowered.

4. Giving helps keep things in perspective

Helping others, especially those who are less fortunate than yourself, can help to put things into perspective and make you feel more positive about your own circumstances.

5. It’s contagious

One study found that people are more likely to perform feats of generosity after observing another do the same. This effect can ripple throughout the community, inspiring dozens of individuals to make a difference.  

6. Helping others can help you live longer

Regular volunteering can improve your ability to manage stress and stave off disease as well as increasing your sense of life satisfaction. T his might be because volunteering alleviates loneliness and enhances our social lives.

7. It will give you a sense of renewal

Helping others can teach you to help yourself. If you’ve been through a tough experience or just have a case of the blues, the "activism cure" is a great way get back to feeling like yourself.

8. You’ll boost your self-esteem

People who volunteer have been found to have higher self-esteem and overall wellbeing. The benefits of volunteering also depend on your consistency. So, the more regularly you volunteer, the more confidence you'll gain.

9. You’ll create stronger friendships

When you help others, you give off positive vibes, which can rub off on peers and improve your friendships.  Being a force for good in a friend’s life can help build a lasting bond.

10. You become a glass half-full type person

Having a positive impact on someone else could help you change your own outlook and attitude. Experts say that performing acts of kindness boosts your mood and ultimately makes you more optimistic and positive.

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“Love Is Sacrifice”: Learning To Be Selfless In Your Relationship

The art of sacrifice can be important when building a selfless and fulfilling relationship between two people. Individuals who prioritize their partner’s needs and well-being while being skilled at compromise are often successful in relationships because of the sacrifices they make. Sacrifice can seem one-sided at times, but it usually benefits both partners and promotes individual growth at the same time. Between partners, sacrifice can develop a sense of trust, intimacy, and respect. For individuals, it can develop boundaries, communication, and reflection. However, there normally needs to be a healthy balance between sacrifice and taking care of oneself. Sacrificing too much without balancing it out can lead to resentment, while only prioritizing individual needs can be inconsiderate to a partner. Understanding the benefits of sacrifice, learning strategies to maintain a healthy balance, and practicing effective communication can help individuals build healthy relationships on a foundation of respect and trust. Individual or couples therapy may help you strike the right balance between self-care and sacrifice in your relationship.

The role of sacrifice in a fulfilling relationship

Building a solid and loving partnership often requires sacrifice from both partners. Putting a partner's needs and well-being ahead of your own and making compromises for the sake of the relationship can be great examples of sacrifice. These examples often demonstrate a willingness to work together and prioritize the relationship over individual needs. 

Selflessness can also lead to increased happiness and satisfaction for both partners.  Time supports these ideas: "Scientific research provides compelling details to support the anecdotal evidence that giving is a powerful pathway to personal growth and lasting happiness. Through fMRI technology, we now know that giving activates the same parts of the brain that are stimulated by food and sex. Experiments show evidence that altruism is hardwired in the brain—and it's pleasurable. Helping others may just be the secret to living a life that is not only happier but also healthier, wealthier, more productive, and meaningful.”

When both partners are willing to sacrifice for each other, it can create trust and intimacy for both partners. This can lead to a deeper emotional connection, greater understanding, and improved communication. 

Strategies for prioritizing your partner's needs

Understanding how a partner expresses love can be an important aspect of building a healthy and fulfilling relationship. Everyone tends to have different ways of expressing and receiving love, so taking the time to understand a partner's unique love language can show them they are valued in a way that is meaningful to them. 

Effective communication and active listening can also be crucial components of a healthy relationship and sacrifice. It can be important to listen to your partner's needs, concerns, and desires while also communicating openly and honestly about your own.

Time quotes a study in which “participants were asked to record instances in which either spouse put aside personal wishes in order to meet their partner’s needs” for two weeks. Researchers assumed “the couples would reap the most benefits when acts of kindness were recognized and acknowledged—and that hypothesis proved true, for both husbands and wives. But they also found that givers reported emotional boosts even when their actions weren’t consciously noticed. In these cases, emotional benefits for the giver were about 45% greater than the benefits for the recipient.”

Showing a partner their needs and wants are valued usually involves actively prioritizing their well-being and happiness. This is not always limited to small gestures of kindness and thoughtfulness; it can also include more significant acts of sacrifice and compromise. Understanding a partner and their needs, practicing active listening and communication, and showing them that you value them can build a strong and fulfilling relationship based on mutual respect.

Maintaining a healthy balance between self-care and sacrifice

Sacrifice and selflessness are frequently important in a relationship, but understanding the importance of self-care can also be crucial. Compromise can be an important component of a successful relationship, but it typically needs to be balanced with prioritizing your own needs. Recognizing when you're sacrificing too much and when to prioritize your own needs can be challenging, but it can also be essential for maintaining a healthy balance in the relationship. Signs of sacrificing too much can include: 

Feelings of resentment toward a partner

Neglecting your own needs and desires 

Feeling burnt out in the relationship

The challenges of building a selfless relationship

Building a selfless and fulfilling relationship can be challenging, and putting your partner's needs before your own may not come naturally. One of the challenges of putting your partner's needs before your own may be the potential for feeling neglected or resentful if your own needs are not being met in the same way. Setting healthy boundaries in a relationship can be an effective way to address this challenge. This may involve respectfully communicating your needs and limits, setting boundaries, or being willing to say no or take a step back when necessary. 

Conflict can be inevitable in any relationship, even when both partners are committed to practicing selflessness. Handling conflict healthily usually involves effective communication, active listening, and a willingness to find a compromise that works for all parties. Partners who prioritize healthy boundaries and effective communication can address conflict as it arises and reach a compromise. 

Seeking professional support in relationships

Seeking professional help for relationship issues can be a valuable resource for individuals looking to improve their relationships and develop effective strategies for finding the balance between self-care and selflessness. Mental health providers specializing in relationship issues can offer guidance and support for individuals who desire to strengthen their relationships and understand selflessness on a deeper level. Speaking to a professional can help individuals identify their unique needs in a relationship and develop strategies for managing them. This may involve working on communication skills, practicing self-care and stress management techniques, or addressing specific issues related to sacrifice and compromise in the relationship. 

Online therapy can be a valuable resource for individuals looking to build fulfilling relationships and learn more about the art of sacrifice. With online therapy, individuals may have a safe and quiet space to discuss their relationship concerns and goals with a licensed mental health professional. This can be particularly important when discussing sensitive topics like sacrifice, self-care, and relationship dynamics. In addition to offering a safe space for discussion, online therapy can also provide flexibility in terms of scheduling and frequency of sessions, potentially making it easier for individuals to fit therapy into their busy lives. 

As online therapy becomes more and more reachable, it is generally becoming an increasingly effective option. This study looked at the efficacy of online therapy in comparison to traditional in-office therapy and found that both were typically equally effective.

Frequently Asked Questions

Can you love without sacrifice?

In general, compromise and sacrifice can be crucial for loving, healthy relationships.

What is the greatest sacrifice for love?

There have perhaps been many great examples of sacrifices for love throughout history. In 1936, for example, King Edward VIII abdicated the throne to be with the woman he loved. In Christianity, the greatest instance of sacrificing for love was likely the passion of Christ, referring to the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus. 

What the Bible says about love and sacrifice?

The Bible generally calls for Christians to live a life of sacrifice and compromise following Christ.

  • When Will I Find Love? Medically reviewed by Majesty Purvis , LCMHC
  • Losing Your Mind In Love: Sense, Logic, And Seeing Reason Medically reviewed by Arianna Williams , LPC, CCTP
  • Relationships and Relations

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Why My Purpose In Life Is To Help Others

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