Altruistic August….It’s cool to be kind

Namaste everyone.

Namaste to you and all your mates.

I love that word. I think if you put it on the end of any sentence it can excuse whatever words just preceded it.  Like “hey, I’m enjoying your new black and white Supre jumper today. How many magpies had to throw up on that in production I wonder…namaste”, all would be well between the people involved in that friendly exchange.

I don’t actually know the exact translation of namaste, but I know it has to do with meditation….which is a good segue to May to Julys goal to meditate more.  I extended it to July, because I’m super keen on the benefits of meditation, and hadn’t done so much of it in May. July went better, and I did fit in at least 2 x 15 minute sessions per week but still, not as much as I’d liked. This one’s a work in progress for me, and one I am going to continue on.

But with August came a new goal to try. My goal for August is centred around altruism. “Atruistic August” if you will. Altruism is a bit of a fancy word. It’s probably my hardest goal month to roll off the tongue, but aside from Fun Feb, it might just be my favourite. For one, it was fun to research. Above and beyond wikipediaing the definition of altruism, I came across some people doing some impressive stuff in the world and great ways to be more altruistic.

What is altruism?

Altruism is basically the selfless concern for the wellbeing of others.

So doing nice stuff for others, being kind, and putting others first. It’s like the opposite to being selfish. On a grand scale, it might be setting up a charity, or volunteering in a third world country. On a simple everyday scale, it might include letting a stranger know their Fitness First backpack is unzipped. But you can’t unzip it first. That’s not kosher, or altruistic.

Why be altruistic?

Well for one thing, it’s nice and it benefits others. For another it’s one of the best ways to feel happy.

Altruism is the best source of happiness, there is no doubt about that. 
                                                 - Dalai Lama

When someone performs an act of kindness, the brain produces feel-good hormones including endorphins and dopamine, associated with positive thinking. Psychologists actually call this “helpers’ high”, kind of like “runners’ high” but without the lycra.

It increases your wellbeing and improves your emotional, mental and physical health. For example, say you helped someone onto a tram. This creates an emotional bond, which in turn, produces Oxytocin (the bonding hormone). What results is a dilation of the arteries and lowering of the blood pressure. That’s a pretty cool physiological response to helping someone out!

What’s more, according to a major scientific literature review conducted by Stanford University School of Medicine, showing kindness and compassion to patients in healthcare can  reduce pain and anxiety, reduce blood pressure and lead to shorter hospital stays. Patch Adams was definitely on to something.

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How?

So how does one be altruistic for a month? More so than usual. Because the thing is, most of us do nice things for others on a regular basis without realising.

Well for one thing, it doesn’t have to just include donating gold coins at the Bunnings sausage sizzle.

In the interest of warming your altruistic heart, I’ve put together a list of five ways to be more altruistic that are outside the local charity box:

1) Micro-volunteer –

These days, you  can make a difference in the comfort of your own home. Micro-volunteering is quick, low commitment actions that benefit a worthy cause and can be done online.  Thanks to social media, this one is on the rise.

In Australia, volunteering websites including Go Volunteer and SEEK Volunteer connect you with short-term volunteering opportunities in your area.

Help from home is a cool international volunteering website I came across. It allows you to choose by cause or time. You can do some far-reaching good in under 1 minute!

2) Buy toilet paper – not just any toilet paper, this guys toilet paper: Who gives a crap

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Plus, do yourself a favour and watch his crowd funded start up clip. I watched him present at a work gig last year and love his work. Soooo much toilet humour. Truly punerrific.

3) Donate to a cause that truly does good stuff with your coinage

Overwhelmed by the amount of charities out there and not quite sure which one will do the most good? Give Well is an organisation that looks at exactly that – evidence-based charities that are thoroughly vetted. Legit charities that are genuinely underfunded with whom you can feel confident that your money is going to do good. That’s where I would want my money to go!

Giving What We Can is another organisation or “global community” that donate at least 10% of their income to the most effective, evidence-based charities. Making sure their  hard-earned cash goes far to make a difference.

4) Write a letter

Close your eyes and recall someone who, years ago, did or said something that changed your life for the better. Write them a letter of thanks and hand-deliver it.

According to Dr Martin Selligman, commonly known as the founder of Positive Psychology, this simple act can not only make someone else’s day, but also make you happier and less depressed a mere month from now.

5) Random Acts of Kindness 

The Greater Good Science Centre (based at University of California, Berkeley) studies the psychology and neuroscience of wellbeing. They suggest performing five random acts of kindness all in one day. After each act, write down what you did in at least one or two sentences; for more of a happiness boost, also write down how it made you feel. They don’t need to be related or for the same person, but research shows that performing them all in one day can give a significant boost in happiness, suggesting people are more likely to remember and savour these acts in the one day. Examples include topping up a stranger’s, parking meter, shouting someone a cup of coffee, smiling at a stranger,helping someone out at work or donating blood.

….And the final word on altruism comes from my good mate Lao Tzu. I love a good quote and this guy has some crackers:

Kindness in words creates confidence
Kindness in thinking creates profoundness
Kindness in giving creates love
                         -Lao Tzu

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