Curious to learn where you land on that continuum? This egoism vs. altruism quiz in Psychology Today gives you a score. Dr. Manly notes that genetic components can affect a person’s tendency to be more egoistic or altruistic, and childhood environment, education, and general socialization also play a role. Still, she believes we have a choice to be more or less egoistic or altruistic.
With that in mind, take the quiz and then read on for Dr. Manly’s breakdown of the benefits of the two—plus tips on how to be more egoistic or altruistic, depending on your score.
Egoism vs. altruism
The benefits of practicing altruism are many, including lasting mental, emotional, and physical benefits. “Those who are emotionally, mentally, and behaviorally compassionate—all key components of altruism— tend to thrive personally and interpersonally,” Dr. Manly says. “Research has found an association between altruism and increased physical health, longevity, happiness, and wellbeing.”
Egoism has its benefits, too, and we all have a certain amount of egoism, Dr. Manly says. That’s a good thing because we’d never take care of ourselves and tend to our needs without it. However, when you move into the far end of the egotistic spectrum, it becomes more than self-attention and self-care and into the realm of toxic narcissism. “While a very egoistic person may achieve ‘success’ in life by doing whatever is perceived as necessary to get ahead, the cost to the self and healthy interpersonal relationships is generally extremely high,” she says.
If you lean more into egoism…
If your score leans more into egoism territory, Dr. Manly says you can adopt practices that promote altruism. The key, she says, is to take baby steps to ensure you find a good fit. Jumping in too deeply can result in feeling overwhelmed or regretful.
There are many ways to practice altruism. Dr. Manly suggests finding somewhere you can volunteer in your community, such as pet shelters, community gardens, hospitals, and homeless shelters. She recommends trying a few out to find the environment that feels the best to you. Donating money to causes you support, even in small amounts, is another way to practice altruism.
If you don’t have the means to donate your time or money, Dr. Manly says many small generous acts don’t cost anything. “Altruism is reflected in simple actions such as sharing smiles, helping an elderly person with their groceries, walking a neighbor’s dog, sharing bounty from one’s garden, or pausing to really listen to a friend in need,” she says. “One of my favorite win-win forms of altruism is the habit of safely picking up litter when out for a hike, walk, or beach stroll. These altruistic behaviors not only feel good, but they do good for the environment while offering a positive role model for others.”
Dr. Manly also notes that true altruistic efforts are motivated by empathy and unselfish goals. For instance, a donation made out of goodwill is altruistic versus one made as a strategic donation for publicity or tax benefits is not.
Whatever selfless acts of kindness feel good for you to share, big or small, the important thing is to be consistent with it. Dr. Manly says that the more you serve and give to others, the more you hardwire altruism into your brain.
If you lean more into altruism…
If your score showed that you lean heavily into altruism, that could signal that you’re giving to the point of overextending yourself and self-sacrificing your wellbeing. Dr. Manly says it’s essential to find a healthy balance between giving to others and taking care of yourself.
Your altruistic efforts shouldn’t interfere with other aspects of your life or cause you personal stress. If you start feeling overwhelmed or burnt out due to overcommitting yourself, Dr. Manly recommends taking a time out. “Allow yourself time to reset and rejuvenate before agreeing to more commitments,” she says. This is also an opportunity to set boundaries which in and of itself can be a generous act because the more you fill yourself up, the more you can pour into others. “It’s important to be able to say no when you’re weary or when you need time to tend to yourself or loved ones. Healthy boundaries are truly important; they allow you to care for yourself and others without the fear of burning out.”
When you give from a balanced place, meaning your cup is full, Dr. Manly says the rewards from helping others are tremendous.