Altruism is part of a healthy psychological reward system

Aug. 28, 2013 at 9:57 PM
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MADISON, Wis., Aug. 28 (UPI) -- Helping others makes people happier -- even at work -- and altruists are better employees, U.S. researchers say.

Professor Donald Moynihan of the University of Wisconsin-Madison's La Follette School of Public Affairs said altruists in the workplace are more likely to help fellow employees, be more committed to their work and be less likely to quit.

"More and more research illustrates the power of altruism, but people debate whether we behave altruistically because of hidden self-interest, such as the desire to improve how others see us," Moynihan said in a statement.

"Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: helping others makes us happier. Altruism is not a form of martyrdom, but operates for many as part of a healthy psychological reward system."

Previous research suggests volunteering makes people happier, but this new study by Moynihan and Kohei Enami of the University of Wisconsin and Thomas DeLeire of Georgetown University offers new evidence that shows altruism in the work environment also increases happiness.

The study tests the relationship between altruism in the workplace and happiness in two ways. First, using the Wisconsin Longitudinal Study of more than 10,000 1957 Wisconsin high school graduates. The study found individuals in their mid-30s who rated helping others in their work as important said they were happier with their life when surveyed again almost 30 years later.

"Our findings make a simple but profound point about altruism: helping others makes us happier," Moynihan said.

The study authors tested the same model using the General Social Survey and found similar links among the desire to help others and work and current happiness.

"It's exciting that in both tests, our measures of altruism had relatively large effects on happiness," Moynihan said. "Being motivated to help and believing your work makes a difference is associated with greater happiness in our analysis."

Their findings was published in the American Review of Public Administration.

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