Small Acts of Altruism Can Significantly Improve Your Resilience

The last blog post about the Harvard Grant Study really got me to reflect on the adaptive style of altruism and how it has been fitting into my life of late. It strikes me that simple gestures of kindness or help toward others has been an especially effective resilience tool in my life.

I began showing simple signs of altruism in the context of visiting my mother in an assisted living facility that specializes in caring for people with Alzheimer’s.  I found that as the weeks went by, I began to develop relationships with some of the other residents. Simple gestures of help and interest really spurred the development of more authentic relationships despite the presence of some pretty severe levels of communication deficits.

Examples of help include guiding one lady to her room and another to get out of her chair and on to her feet. Interest shown might be asking them about past professions and talking about family and pets. Most of them have moderate to severe memory problems, a few are non-verbal, and agitation is a common product of frustrations in living.

It felt good to be of minor help but also I liked it when big smiles showed on the faces of the otherwise non-expressive. Joining with a woman resident in listening to a pianist playing old time songs, tapping her foot and softly mouthing some of the lyrics is just one minor example. In nice weather several of us would navigate to the deck to enjoy the fresh air, tease each other and recall previous times.

Taking time to engage with each resident seemed such a natural progression and I noticed that I had fewer symptoms of stress in my role as caregiver to my mother. Somehow seeing these individuals as people beyond their disabilities was a gift for both of us.

I also found myself displaying small gestures of kindness to others (outside the long term care facility) more and more often most of the time with strangers that I encountered in daily activities. Of course it was not a daily occurrence but I found myself noticing opportunities and often took advantage of them.

In reflecting on how this might be so helpful in being more resilient it struck me that part of it was pulling myself out of my own internal thoughts and worries to engage with others.Most of the time this led to a momentary nice connection. It also felt good to ease a struggle or a minor problem of another.


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