Altruism monks giving alms laos Peter Nijenhuis/Flickr

Effective Altruism

Several studies show that people who are generous typically are happier and more satisfied with their lives than those who do not give. But these donors’ direct motive is to help others, and their giving makes them happier only as a consequence of the fact that it does help others.

PRINCETON – Can humans really be motivated by altruism? My new book, The Most Good You Can Do, discusses the emerging new movement called Effective Altruism, and, in doing interviews about the book, I am surprised by how often that question is asked.

Why should we doubt that some people act altruistically, at least some of the time? In evolutionary terms, we can easily understand altruism toward kin and others who can reciprocate our help. It seems plausible that once our ability to reason and reflect has developed sufficiently enough to enable us to understand that strangers can suffer and enjoy life just as we can, then at least some of us would act altruistically toward strangers, too.

The polling organization Gallup asked people in 135 countries whether they had, in the last month, donated money to a charity, volunteered their time to an organization, or helped a stranger. Gallup’s results, which form the basis of the World Giving Index 2014, indicate that approximately 2.3 billion people, a third of the world’s population, perform at least one altruistic act per month.

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