10:1 Altruism

"Stop worrying about whether you are happy or not and instead turn your attention to the question of whether you are helping someone else. The greatest buffer against depression is altruism." - Shawn Achor

Altruism, as defined by dictionary.com, means "the principle or practice of unselfish concern for or devotion to the welfare of others.

Keep that in mind as you read through this post as I'm going to circle back to altruism, and how we can make the world a better place with my little math equation above. In the book, Before Happiness, Shawn Achor writes about a 3:1 P/N ratio and how it can predict how well a business or team is functioning. Where the 3:1 ratio (3 is positive interactions and 1 is negative interactions) is present in a team environment at work, you'll see higher profitability, more engaged employees and lower turnover.

The reason I found this so interesting is because when someone is working in an environment with at least a 3:1 ratio of positive to negative interactions, it translated to being more optimistic, happier and more fulfilled in their home life. A positive interaction is something as simple as a compliment. 

Think about that for a second. We get bombarded with bad news all the time, and our brains naturally tend to get stuck on the bad news. Think about the last time you got a negative comment on anything. Chances are, you also received some positive comments as well, but you focused on the one person that was unhappy or upset with whatever you did. Our brains are crazy like that. To counteract, every time you have a negative interaction, something upsets you, etc. try and balance it out with at least 3 pieces of good things.

Step out of the business world for a while and come with me into the land of marriage and relationships. Psychologist and relationship guru, John Gottman, says there should be a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences to keep a solid relationship, and if your relationship is lower than 5:1 you have a higher chance of divorce. That means every time I hurt Jenny's feelings, doing the dishes or laundry once isn't enough to make up for my negative action. I have to consciously give her 5 positive interactions to fully atone for my mistake. 

That's all fascinating stuff, right? But I want to take it a step further. I don't ever want to be the kind of person that's counting positive and negative interactions. That seems rather silly, and let's be honest here....we're all going to do or say something that hurts another at some point. We all forget from time to time that we're all unique people, and we all have differing beliefs, values and opinions. And when we do hurt someone's feelings, we will feel bad and want to make up for that hurtful action. 

So what if we strived for a 10:1 ratio of positive to negative experiences? Or a 100:1? What if we made habits out of living an altruistic life? I told you I'd circle back. What if we just did nice things for others because it's a good thing to do? If you like someone's shoes, tell them so. If you notice they got a haircut, let them know you noticed. At home, do some extra chores or something you normally don't do. Make it a point to cook dinner if your spouse normally cooks. Smile more. Some of my personal favorites involve cranking up some good tunes and creating impromptu dance parties. Leave encouraging notes around your town. Give more hi-fives! Say thank you more often.

Let's go out and make altruism our goal. Let's live so selflessly we don't have to worry about any ratios because we're so far ahead on the positives that the negatives will never catch up. How awesome would our world be if we recruited as many folks as possible to join us? I'm giddy just thinking about all the good we can do.

I could go on forever with all sorts of ways we can brighten another's day, but I'd like to open it up to all of you and hear in the comments section what you can do to create more positive experiences in your life.

Josh Solar


Josh Solar

@Marisa – totally! So good, right?

Josh Solar

This is AMAZING! I don’t celebrate Lent, but I always use the time to give something up or add something positive in my life. This year I decided to combat each negative thought with a positive thought. But this is SUPER helpful because now I realize I should be combating each negative thought with multiple positive thoughts. Thanks for this!

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