We Can Teach People to Give Back More

Generosity might seem to be in short supply these days, whether it's financial, emotional, or political. Luckily for all of us, altruism is a renewable resource. We just have to commit to it, like any other habit.

German psychologists have just released research into why humans are likely to engage in behavior that's costly to themselves but beneficial to other people. This is called prosocial behavior, and it's basically the foundation of civilization, in some definitions. "Human prosociality is at the heart of peaceful societies, and it is key to facing global challenges," said author Anne Böckler-Raettig in a press release. "We were able to demonstrate that human prosociality is malleable and that different aspects of prosociality can be improved systematically through different types of mental training."

The key to cultivating prosocial behavior is much the same as training yourself to be mindful. Researchers had the most success with study participants who intentionally integrated short, consistent exercises or practices. One program, called the Affect Module, consisted of "three introductory days, weekly meetings with teachers, and about 30 minutes of daily practice over the course of three months"; according to a press release, after completing the module, participants "were more generous, more willing to help spontaneously and donated higher amounts to welfare organizations."

In short? If you want to be more generous in your life, you have to work at it. The good news is, once you've integrated that work into your day-to-day, generosity becomes your default setting. We already know that kindness and compassion pay off in the workplace. Why not be the change and give altruism a try?