Why should anyone do good things

Doing good makes you happy

Young adults help older people to immerse themselves in the digital world. Politically active people are committed to a fairer future and the protection of nature. Others invest time and money to support people or animals in need or lonely. Everywhere there is an opportunity to do something for others. And that is done extensively. More than four out of ten German citizens volunteer for others - younger people and people with higher educational qualifications even more often. This is shown by data from the last volunteer survey from 2014. The trend is rising. Why are we doing this What does working for others bring us?

Even toddlers want to help

Many researchers today are convinced that we were born to help. For example, a team from the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology in Leipzig found out that children as early as 18 months spontaneously interrupt their game to help. They pick up dropped pens, point to something they are looking for, or push obstacles out of the way. A willingness to help can also be found with some animal species. Asian elephants comfort frightened members of the herd. Chimpanzees adopt orphans and rats try to free other captives.

We were born to help.

Why people help others

How could such behavior develop in evolution? Ever since the British social philosopher Herbert Spencer introduced the catchphrase "survival of the fittest" into the world in the 19th century, many have believed that it is pure egoism that rules the world and determines our behavior. But Darwin had already recognized that cooperative communities flourished better and had more offspring than groups in which each one is next to oneself.

Cooperation makes you successful

Many experiments and computer simulations in the last few decades have convincingly shown that cooperative communities are indeed more successful than groups in which everyone is out for their own benefit. In such communities, people share their resources with one another, they act responsibly and ensure that no one is taken advantage of.

The experiments also show, however, that cooperation can only last if the egoists are kept in check. Because hardly anyone wants to be taken advantage of by free riders who benefit from the jointly generated good, but do not contribute anything themselves. If the uncooperative behavior is not sanctioned, more and more members follow this example.

Cooperation only lasts if the egoists are kept in check.


But there is an antidote: the pursuit of justice and fairness. The economist and behavioral researcher Ernst Fehr from the University of Zurich was able to prove that people are willing to bear high costs so that free riders are held accountable. There is a reason for that. Because in communities in which uncooperative behavior is threatened with sanctions, the rules of cooperation can better enforce.

Do something good for yourself and others

Working for others is work, but also fun. And even permanently. A longitudinal study from 2016 by researchers led by the Berlin psychology professor Denis Gerstorf shows: Those who are socially committed feel better into old age - regardless of factors such as health or level of education. Analyzes of the largest and longest running long-term study in Germany, the "Socio-Economic Panel" (SOEP), found - most recently in 2018 - that people who like to help others are, on average, happier with their lives. Other studies even show that people who stand up for others live longer on average. So there are powerful benefits to cooperative social behavior.

We are designed for compassion

What is evolutionarily advantageous must be anchored in physical phenomena. And that's it. Because people are designed for compassion. We have the innate ability to recognize the feelings of others - spontaneously and automatically. Neuropsychologists say: feelings are contagious. For this purpose, nature has equipped us with so-called mirror neurons. When we perceive that another living being is suffering, the same nerve cells become active in our feeling as in the brain of the sufferer. If we see someone who is happy, the neurons in our brain that are active when they are happy also fire. That's why giving gifts is so much fun. We feel the joy we bring ourselves.