Altruism: Why Helping Helps, by Dr. Dan Martin, Clinical Psychologist

Dear Community,

I wanted to share with you some thoughts about altruism. Altruism is the unselfish concern for other people. Altruistic behaviors are done out of a desire to help, not out of obligation. Social psychologists are interested in why these behaviors occur. What motivates people to help strangers? Some researchers suggest empathy inspires altruism. When people can imagine what someone else is going through and identify with their situation they are more likely to exhibit altruistic behaviors. Other experts have shown seeing others in distress is upsetting and uncomfortable. Helping is a way to reduce these negative feelings.

Regardless of the underlying motivation for altruism, it is interesting to observe what happens to the person being altruistic. Most of the time they feel better. Altruism tends to have a positive effect on mood. It is gratifying and it directs attention away from one’s own negative mood or situation.

In sum, helping helps. Rather than being bored, find some way to help your family, neighbors, friends, or community (safely, of course). Even telephoning a distant relative can be a great help to them right now. Doing altruistic things will not only help the community, it will help your mood as well. 

Stay safe,


Dan Martin, Ph.D.
(203) 887-7454