Psychology: The power of unconditional contribution (theory)

It might not always feel like it, but doing something valuable for another person without expecting anything in return is one of the most beneficial things that you can ever dream of doing. It builds strong social networks, earns you lots of precious goodwill and often rewards you with a healthy dose of endorphins. It also gives you a very pure and healthy reason for doing creative work, leading to all the good things described in the previous two posts (1, 2).

Unconditional love is the most natural state from which unconditional contribution can flow. Couples who are in love contribute unconditionally to each other’s lives all the time. In fact, if this contribution dries up later in the relationship, it often dries up the love as well. Parents contribute to the lives of their children in a similar way. Their love allows them to give large quantities of their time and money without even thinking of what they might get in return.

Unfortunately, we live in the age of instant gratification and have become indoctrinated with a mindset that any “sacrifice” of time or money we make has to be instantly rewarded. This mindset is also strongly related to our self-destructive culture of consumerism where we have become completely addicted to the instant fix brought by consumption, even if this fix has to be bought on very expensive credit. 

Unconditional contribution is the complete opposite of this hopelessly flawed pursuit of happiness. If you truly contribute unconditionally, you don’t care when you will get rewarded. You don’t even care if you ever get rewarded. In fact, reward has nothing to do with making this contribution in the first place. The motivation for unconditional contribution is completely intrinsic.

Yes, there are people out there in the real world who will blatantly misuse your commitment to always go the extra mile, but I like to believe they are in the minority. When talking about your career, unconditional contribution can be seen as an investment: you might not get any immediate rewards, but you will gradually build up invaluable work experience, a habit for always producing quality results, precious goodwill among your colleagues and a very favorable reputation among your customers. These things pay off handsomely in time.

But who cares about the payoff anyway? The process of unconditional contribution is the reward in itself. If your paycheck is your primary reason for working I’m afraid you are on the wrong track. It is only when you start doing your job unconditionally that you can really slide into that precious benevolent cycle where your competence and reputation earns you greater opportunities which lead to more job satisfaction, more contribution and ultimately an even greater rate of professional development. 

And the link to health? Well, that is simple: unconditional contribution => healthy relationships and high job satisfaction => at least 10 years added to life expectancy.

We’ll get get a little bit more practical tomorrow.

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