Why We Do What We Do

Volume 1, Issue 7

Maika Dang, MD


Day in and day out we give our blood, sweat, and tears to helping others… with any luck, minus the blood. What drives this self-sacrificing philanthropy?

Many argue that altruism is a myth. With every good selfless act, there is a reward. It takes many forms - a thank you, knowing you did something for someone who couldn’t do it themselves, or just that warm “fuzzy” feeling. Either way, social scientists found helping others to be contagious: “the acts of generosity and kindness impact others around them, and that others, in turn, act with generosity in a chain reaction of goodness” (1, 2). In addition, an individual’s happiness depends on the happiness of those with whom they are connected (2). This is demonstrated on a daily basis working in the emergency department. The positive impact of the work we do does not end with our patients. This “chain reaction of goodness” is evident in the families and friends of those that we help, who in turn take a positive energy into the world that spreads farther than we can directly see. Know your actions are influencing others.

Not only do we positively influence others, but we create a benefit for ourselves at the same time. Altruistic behavior is good for your emotional well-being; an act of kindness increases social support and activates areas in the brain associated with positive feelings, helping to relieve stress (3).

The weather is getting cold, but not our hearts. Reward yourself by rewarding others.


  1. Seppala, Emma. “Indulging the Totally Selfish Joys of Selfless Giving.” Spirituality & Health Magazine. N.p., Nov.-Dec. 2010. http://spiritualityhealth.com/articles/indulging-totally-selfish-joys-selfless-giving.
  2. Fowler, J. H., and N. A. Christakis. “Dynamic Spread of Happiness in a Large Social Network: Longitudinal Analysis over 20 Years in the Framingham Heart Study.” Bmj 337.Dec04 2 (2008): 337:a2338.
  3. Scott, Elizabeth. “Why Being Good To Others Is Good For You.” Verywell. N.p., 29 June 2016. https://www.verywell.com/benefits-of-altruism-3144685.