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Effective Altruism Taught Me Gratitude

How learning about effective altruism in college gave me a deeper appreciation for life.

How effective altruism inspires gratitude

In the Fall of 2021, I took a philosophy class called Introduction to Moral Issues. The class covered a wide range of moral topics like abortion, capital punishment, the trolley problem, and more. However, one subject from the class that stuck out to me was the topic of effective altruism.

Effective altruism is "a philosophical and social movement that advocates using evidence and reason to figure out how to benefit others as much as possible and taking action on that basis," according to Wikipedia. For example, an effective altruist might commit to donating all of their disposable income to various charities and causes. They may even go so far as to seek high-paying jobs so that they can give more money away.

While I'm nowhere near being a real effective altruist, it sparked a conversation in my head. In class, we learned about the applications of this belief system as well as some staggering facts about just how much good we can do in the world with little resources. We learned that a donation of 1.25 dollars (!!!) could feed a starving child somewhere for a day.

Our global society is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore, how we treat each other will foretell either our prosperity or our downfall.

Maybe that's common knowledge, but that statistic was surprising to me. I was taken aback as I tried to put myself in that child's shoes.

There are children that die for the want of a $1.25 meal.

It made me feel truly grateful to be in my position at a time when I was overwhelmed and burnt out from schoolwork, my job, and extracurriculars. It was as though reality had slapped me across my face and told me "there are things that are much much worse." While this isn't necessarily the most helpful advice to give someone who's struggling through something, I found it very helpful. It made my own problems seem ridiculously small.

I knew that one day not too far in the future, I wouldn't even remember the assignments that were stressing me out. Meanwhile, there are people in the world worried about where their next meal will come from or how they are going to pay for their child's medical treatment. Furthermore, there was no significant reason why I wasn't one of those people. Just sheer luck. I distinctly remember walking home that night, amidst a Rochester snowfall and saying to myself, "I could've been one of those children. I could be starving, or struggling in a plethora of other ways, or I could even be dead. At least I'm not dead."

In that instant, the snow, which I would have previously felt inconvenienced by, was wonderful. Instead of focusing on the cold nipping at my face, I took comfort in the warmth I felt from the layers under my coat. I found myself walking slower, taking in the quiet scene around me and feeling grateful for each granular sensory experience I had.

From that night onwards, gratitude has held a bigger place in my mind, and I'm much happier for it.

Why you should learn about effective altruism

Learning about effective altruism and striving for it when we can inherently makes us better people! To be an effective altruist is to ask yourself how you can pass the benefits of your privilege on to those who need it most. It's to practice putting others first in the most selfless way possible. In my opinion, you and I have a moral obligation to help those who are down on their luck. Our global society is only as strong as its weakest link. Therefore, how we treat each other will foretell either our prosperity or our downfall.

In The Egg, Andy Weir said, "Every time you victimized someone, you were victimizing yourself. Every act of kindness you've done, you've done to yourself." Meditate on this circularity and the interconnectedness of the human race; also known as sympatheia by stoic philosophers. This concept has been around since the beginning of life on earth; it is a universal truth more than it is a way of thinking.

If you would like to pursue effective altruism or at least become more altruistic in your thoughts, this TED Talk might be a good place to start.


I hope this was helpful! If you liked this post, I think you'll find the ones below interesting as well! If you want to follow my day-to-day or chat about any of my posts (or anything at all) follow me on insta @ariels_view :)



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My name is Ariel and I'm super passionate about mental health, self-help, and personal growth...

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