So what is the point of being socially responsible, or contributing to society? Alfred Adler, one of the most renowned social psychologists of our time, suggested that doing good things for others fosters a better self-image and increases our sense of belonging. It is this sense of belonging, in particular, that was most important as human beings are social animals, and strive first and foremost to be members of the collective group. By increasing your sense of belonging to a group, the group becomes part of your identity, and reinforces your own perceptions of who you are, bolstering your self-image.
While Adler’s philosophy is not universally accepted by psychologists, there is some evidence to support his ideas. Research on how relationships develop during infancy, and later through childhood and across the life span, reveals the importance of how we as people view our interactions with others and with our social networks. Infants who learn to trust their parents tend to grow up with healthier ideas about relationships, their role in society, and have higher self-esteem. They are generally more extraverted, and have more positive views of the world.
Conversely, infants who learn that their parents are unreliable or unavailable typically have difficulties forming good relationships, have negative attitudes about themselves, and may find it hard to “fit in” to society. They typically isolate themselves more from the world, and view the world as more hostile or dangerous.
What all this means is that relationships matter, and have profound impacts on our own mental (and physical) well-being. The good news is that while changing our models of relationships that developed during infancy and childhood is difficult, it is not impossible. One of the benefits of doing good things for society and other people – of being social and socially responsible – is that over time these actions can either reinforce the good working models of relationships, or even change the bad ones to be more positive.
In fact, Adler claimed to be able to help anybody with any mental health disorder in 14 days. His prescription was simple: do something good for somebody else every day for 2 weeks. While it is doubtful that this method was 100% successful in reversing serious mental illness, there is some compelling data that the method reduces symptoms for many. As people increasingly feel like they belong, their mental well-being improves.
So give it a try. For the next 14 days, go out of your way to do something good for somebody else. Then come back and tell us how it worked out for you!