Why Do You Feel Better Around Certain People?

The transformational effect of altruists in our midst

Posted Jun 24, 2016

Roger McLassus Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons
Source: Roger McLassus Wikimedia Commons Creative Commons

Do you feel better, happier, more inspired and energized around some people you know? What is it about them? More than clichés about “good vibrations,” there really is a difference. Psychologists have found that just being around an altruistic person can have a profound effect on us. 

Jonathan Haidt’s research (2003) has revealed that when we witness to acts of kindness, altruism, and moral courage, we respond  with elevation—a warm, expansive feeling in our chests and sense of inspiration that makes us want to be less selfish, more altruistic ourselves. Studies by Michelangelo Vianello and his colleagues (2010) have shown that when leaders demonstrate an altruistic commitment to their ideals and act with fairness, they cause a ripple effect on the people around them, transforming their cultural atmosphere. Experiencing elevation, their followers respond with greater altruism, courtesy, cooperation, and citizenship. One altruistic person can make a powerful positive difference.

And if that is not enough, altruistic individuals can also affect us physically, strengthening our immune systems. Harvard psychologist David McClelland found that merely watching a documentary film about Mother Teresa not only raised the level of trust among participants but raised their levels of salivary immunoglobin A, the body’s first defense against respiratory tract infections (1986; McClelland, & Kirshnit,  1988).

So if you feel better around certain people, take a moment to notice how they make you feel. Are you more inspired? Now how can you pass along this ripple effect to others?


Haidt, J. (2003). Elevation and the positive psychology of morality. In C. L. M Keyes & J. Haidt (Eds.). Flourishing: Positive psychology and the life well-lived (pp. 275-289). Washington, D. C.: American Psychological Association.

McClelland, D.C. (1986). Some reflections on the two psychologies of love. Journal of Personality, 54, 334-353.

McClelland, D.C. & Kirshnit, C. (1988). The effects of motivational arousal through films on salivary immunoglobin A. Psychology and Health, 2, 31-52.

Vianello, M., Galliani, E. M., & Haidt, J. (2010). Elevation at work: The effects of leaders’ moral excellence. The Journal of Positive Psychology, 5, 390-411.


Diane Dreher is a best-selling author, positive psychology coach, and professor at Santa Clara University. Her latest book is Your Personal Renaissance: 12 Steps to Finding Your Life’s True Calling.

Visit her web sites at  http://www.northstarpersonalcoaching.com/

and www.dianedreher.com