INCREASE YOUR HAPPINESS BY REACHING OUT TO OTHERS
“Do what makes you happy.” Have you heard that as much as I have? You have if you’ve ever felt dissatisfied with a job or any other professional or personal situation. In fact, you’ve probably heard that advice until you’re sick to death of it. This advice is not helpful, and it’s at least slightly misguided. In today’s world, the pursuit of happiness is a deeply ingrained concept. We’re taught to expect our lives to be fairly happy, and we’re encouraged to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal. But, as is the case with everything else in life, happiness isn’t that simple to attain, and it may not even be something we really should want to achieve — at least not by itself. Let me explain…
What Is Happiness?
First of all, happiness refers to what you can get from others and your environment. In other words, you’re happy when your material and emotional needs are fulfilled. Happiness is based on circumstances. When things are going well, we’re happy. When things are not going well, we’re not. In that sense, happiness can be a fickle and fleeting thing. One of the main social psychology measures of the achievement of happiness is Abraham Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs. Outdated though it may be, it gives us an idea of what people need to be happy and how important those things are in each area of our lives – from basic biological needs like food and shelter to more elevated needs like self-development and creativity. However, fulfilling these needs doesn’t always make us happy. And in many cases, the fulfillment of these needs may directly conflict with the happiness we seek. For example, you get a job that pays enough to cover basic needs for food, shelter, and security, but it gets in the way of your need for creativity, flexibility, and freedom. How happy are you, really, then? Not very, right? Moreover, we tend to think of happiness as static — you either have it or you don’t. However, this is not the case at all. Instead, happiness is fluid and, as I mentioned before, often fleeting. [bctt tweet=”Happiness is fluid and often fleeting.” username=”woweditor12″] So, is the pursuit of happiness an illusion? Not necessarily. Instead, to find true happiness, you must first redefine it. We can redefine happiness by making it broader. It’s not just about the nice, satisfied feeling you get when your needs are met, or when you receive something pleasant from someone else. It’s also about what you can give to others — and how giving gives you a purpose and a connection to your community. According to psychiatrist Viktor Frankl, giving helps you reaffirm your very humanity. It makes you forget yourself, and give yourself over to the person in front of you. This is the basis of the Golden Rule (Matthew 7:12 and Luke 6:31). And it’s even one of the commandments Jesus gave us while He was on the earth (Mark 12:30-31). So, this concept — that of increasing your happiness by increasing the happiness (and meeting the needs) of others — is not a new one, either in the secular or spiritual world. Luckily, you don’t have to change your entire routine to switch the focus from your own thoughts and needs to those of someone else.
There are a few simple things you can do right now to start giving more:
See every conversation as a chance to connect with a person. Instead of just waiting for your turn to speak, pay attention to every word the other person is saying. Notice the tone of his voice and his body language. And don’t forget to ask questions to keep the conversation going. If you need more help in learning the art of conversation, check out these popular books on Amazon:
- The Lost Art of Good Conversation: A Mindful Way to Connect with Others and Enrich Everyday Life
- Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age
- The Art of Civilized Conversation: A Guide to Expressing Yourself With Style and Grace
Build things for others.
Can you knit, make origami figures, or draw? Maybe you’re good with a hammer and saw or with weaving words together to create a magical poem or story. Whatever creative skill you have, use it to make something. Then give your creation away without expecting to receive anything in return. That’s what random acts of kindness are all about, even though they might not always be so random. Some of them are planned well in advance (especially if you’re the giver).
Make it your mission to be kind to others every single day. Believe it or not, little acts of kindness can be contagious (and they probably won’t seem nearly as little to the recipient as they seem to you). Have you ever seen the movie Pay It Forward? It’s one of my favorites. If you haven’t seen it yet, buy or rent it on Amazon. Tonight. Seriously. It’s awesome. If you watch the movie, you’ll probably get some ideas about some nice things you can do for others, but if you need more ideas here are a few:
- Compliment someone. Notice if she did something with her hair.
- Help him carry his groceries out to his car.
- Offer to do some extra work to help out a coworker.
If you need more ideas, check out this book. It has more than 500 ideas you can use to bring some joy into someone else’s life, even if only for a moment.
Take five minutes to think about what’s important to you. What are your values? Is there a cause you’d like to champion? Do you have time or skills to give away to that cause? Maybe you’d like to read books to blind children or sing some songs with the elderly in a nursing home. What about teaching English to immigrants or host guided tours at your local historic site? Whatever it is you like to do, think about how you can do it and be of use to someone else at the same time. Then, go out and find an organization that will let you partner with them as a volunteer.
Become a mentor.
We all started somewhere. We’ve all been lost, confused, and tired. However, you at this moment have answers and insights that can help out someone who is just starting out on his or her journey. Maybe you’ve come up with 30 Crock-Pot meals you can share with someone else who needs to save time and money when making dinner. Find those people, and help them. Maybe you’re a seasoned pro at blogging, and you can help someone who’s just starting out with blogging. I’ve just recently signed up as a premium member with the Wealthy Affiliate community (a community and extensive training program aimed at helping people build their affiliate marketing businesses). So far, I’m loving the support and information I’m getting. I’m being mentored right now and, someday, I hope to be able to mentor others.
By giving, you’re creating connections with those around you.
Life stops being just about seeking satisfaction and it takes on a deeper layer of commitment (the Bible calls this joy). Life is no longer all about you. It’s about creating a positive effect on other people’s lives. An old Chinese proverb states, “If you want happiness for an hour, take a nap. If you want happiness for a day, go fishing. If you want happiness for a year, inherit a fortune. If you want happiness for a lifetime, help somebody.” When you engage in actions that transcend your own search for satisfaction, you make your life meaningful. You become part of a community. You assert your humanity. You achieve real happiness and fulfillment.