Most of us have heard what poor predictors we are of what will make us happy. We work and sacrifice and give so many of our 30,000 days for something that we believe will offer happiness – the contract, the title, the house – only to find that our initial thrill is often followed by feelings of disappointment, disillusionment and dissatisfaction. The prize that we earned or won is much more complicated than we expected, bringing with it all kinds of new challenges, responsibilities, decisions and work. Not necessarily what we had in mind, while we were heading toward it.
Science, fortunately, is teaching us a lot about happiness that we can use in our day to day lives. The fact that we’re learning what we already know in our hearts and bones does not detract from the poignancy of the lessons. Let’s think about this together.
It turns out that being kind to others makes us happy. We all know this, don’t we? We all know how terrific it feels to delight someone with a gift or a gesture that they really and truly appreciate. It’s one of the best feelings. So being kind to others is also being kind to ourselves. When we create a little circuit of happiness, through such gestures, we are part of that loop, not outside of it. We are right there in the middle of it.
And in many circumstances, the gift-giver experiences even greater joy than the gift-receiver. Even when the gift-giver is young. Even really young. According to a study published in Plos One, even toddlers derive greater happiness from giving than receiving.
“While other studies have suggested adults are happier giving to others than to themselves and that kids are motivated to help others spontaneously,” Delia Fuhrmann, a Greater Good research assistant, wrote, “this is the first study to suggest that altruism is intrinsically rewarding even to very young kids, and that it makes them happier to give than to receive.”
Not only that, but, surprisingly, these young children tended to experience the greatest happiness when their gift was costly to them — in other words, when they needed to give up something of their own in order to give. When the snacks they shared with the puppet were from their own stash, they demonstrated greater happiness than when the snacks they shared were random snacks from the table. That’s impressive. Rather, we’re impressive. It seems we are hard-wired to be generous and kind.
Of course the configuration of that wiring can change pretty dramatically, but we would all be well-served to keep that initial vision in mind, and to act in accordance with it. Doing one special gesture for someone else – even if it’s very modest and simple – can noticeably lift our own spirits and increase our sense of joy. Not to mention making the world a sweeter place for others. Let’s get in touch with the wisdom we had as toddlers. Let’s infuse our lives with kind-hearted (and happy-making) efforts.
(by way of yesmagazine.org)
photo credit Angela7
Linda Anderson Krech, LICSW, is Program Director of the ToDo Institute and has been a frequent contributor to Thirty Thousand Days. She is the author of Little Dreams: A Practical Guide to Spiritual Parenting and has been teaching Japanese Psychology for over 20 years.