Why Do We Do Good?

(This was originally meant for GOOD, but it has yet to go up there. So here it is.)

People engage in altruistic behavior for a number of reasons. And while there are probably as many motivations as their are volunteers, a couple of broad categories seem to capture most factors. Not surprisingly, many folks are inspired to serve others by their religious beliefs. Others have a worldview that might be described as broadly liberal, which includes the value of helping the needy. And some people just serve because its value was enculturated to them throughout their childhood and adolescence.

Regardless of motivating factors, all altruistic folks make the conscious choice to serve others. No religion forces its adherents to serve. There are plenty of liberals who engage in no altruistic acts. And, no amount of enculturation can overcome an individual’s desire to become more selfish than selfless.

So then, why do we make this choice? Why do we give up some of our free time to help others? Why not instead use that time for other leisure activities? Or to do simply do nothing at all?

I believe that we make this choice because of what we receive in return. Some have gone so far as to claim that there might be a genetic cause to act altruistically. But the answer need not be that complex. The satisfaction of helping others is greater than any paycheck. It means more than a promotion at work. Serving those who are less fortunate provides more joy than any expensive dinner. The returns to altruism may be immeasurable and intangible, but they are very real.

I think two quotes from Abraham Lincoln really capture why it is that we do good.

“When I do good, I feel good. When I do bad, I feel bad. That’s my religion.”


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