September 3, 2015 Team Mint

Altruism – does it really exist?

We all know what it is to ‘give back’. Some form of PDP (public display of philanthropy) from the companies we interact with is almost expected.

You could argue then that altruism is alive and well. But is it really? Without trying to sound (too) cynical, is there really such a thing as altruism?

What are the reasons companies give? I would argue not because of an exclusive selfless concern for the wellbeing of others, but with the hope for a myriad of external paybacks such as improved public perception, positive social media sharing, improved reputation in the eyes of customers – hopefully transferring to loyalty and retention. There are also many internal benefits for the organisation itself. Charitable giving improves employee engagement by boosting productivity, ethical behavior, gratitude to the organization, pride, improvements in morale and teamwork in these organisations.

Okay, so this is not new news, but what about on a personal level; do we really give only to help others? Or because actually, deep down it makes us feel pretty damn good about ourselves?

It’s actually true – research shows that giving makes you happier – it can even improve your health! Interestingly, there are findings from numerous studies supporting this idea. In 2008, a study published in Science magazine showed a correlation between the amounts of donations a person made and their self-reported happiness. Respondents were handed out money and told to spend it however they wanted. Those who chose to spend the money on themselves were no happier that evening, but those who spent it on others reported higher degrees of happiness. Recently, published research in the Journal of Economic Psychology, found that donating to charity may actually improve the giver’s physical and emotional wellbeing.

The idea that generosity can lead to increased happiness is not a new idea, Buddhists have been onto this idea for years. Think about Karma – the appeal to generosity is made on the basis of long-term self-interest. If we wish to receive, we first must give.

So if altruism in its truest sense is defined as ‘disinterested and selfless concern for the well-being of others’, is it really alive and well if there is even only a degree of self-interest? Or is there a paradox, that we are all ‘selfishly giving’? What do you think?

At the end of the day perhaps it doesn’t matter what the motivation is, only that those in need benefit. So do something good for others AND yourself. This Saturday, September 5th, is the United Nations’ International day of Charity, marking the ‎anniversary of the death of Mother Teresa.

-Melodie Climent, Director, Mint Research

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