An old man in Indiana named Glenn was once asked at a church meeting about his religion. He replied, “When I do good I feel good, when I do bad I feel bad, that’s my religion.” Now, Glenn’s words of wisdom probably wouldn’t have spread much farther than Indiana if Abraham Lincoln hadn’t heard him speak and later repeated Glenn’s words to describe his own moral compass.
Altruism as a concept isn’t very old. The word itself didn’t exist until 1851 when the French philosopher Auguste Comte coined it based on the Latin word alteri, “others,” but the act of giving may go back to the beginning of time. “When I do good I feel good” is something most of us can relate to.
A good deed does make us feel better. A smile of thanks after you’ve helped a person lift a stroller off a train, or the gratitude in the eyes of a beggar when a few coins land on the bottom of their paper cup, will make you feel like a good person.
And most of us want to be good people. It’s the definition of “good” that varies.