In this week’s spotlight, we turn our attention to the notion of happiness. If you ask, “What would make you happier?” –most people will frame their answer around what they might get. If I had more money, I would be happier. If I had more time, I would be happier. If I had less stress, or a better job, or………and the list goes on and on.
When we look at the research data however, we discover that none of the above provides for lasting happiness. Indeed, if you tend to be gloomy and depressed, you can win the lottery and within a very short time, you will return to your gloomy depressed familiar self. In fact, research has shown us that folks who win the lottery are less happy one year later than they were before winning it.
Common sense and experience both inform us that when we get what we want, the new car, the pay raise, and so forth, that soon the newness wears off and we are again thinking about what we want next. It’s clear that lasting happiness doesn’t come from what we can get, and if that’s so, what does it take to find and live a truly happy life?
One of my favorite exercises is to convolute existing models and ask, “What if?” So, what if instead of what we can get out of life we ask, “What can I give to life?” The data is very interesting when we evaluate life from this perspective.
Using research from Israel, we find that when folks gather in a bomb shelter and support one another, as opposed to sit alone in isolation, they are able to maintain positive attitudes and avoid depression and anxiety experienced by those who choose isolation—the so-called loner model.
Research at UCSD showed that when students modeled the behavior of happy people, they became happier and enjoyed a higher level of life satisfaction. Chief among the behaviors to be copied was that of helping others.
Giving of yourself to those in need is a rewarding act that the brain is hard wired to recognize. The fact is, doing something as simple as writing a check to a charity we care about, leads to the release of our feel-good neuro-chemicals, or endorphins, the bodies own natural opiates.
I have argued for years, based on my own research, that true self-esteem comes from what we give and not what we get. I am convinced that it’s when we know our lives truly matter that we gain genuine self-approval. Our highest self-actualization comes from the realization that we have in some way made life better for someone else. There is no greater “warm fuzzy” feeling than the one we feel when we have gone to the aid of someone in need and been able to help them.
Research shows us clearly what we all intuitively know—we are made in such a way to find true happiness in helping others. It is the time of year that we are all thinking about giving and I would urge you to include giving to those who are most in need. Take an afternoon to help out in a shelter or with your church community in delivery food to the needy, or in any other volunteer way that you can feel good about. Give yourself the gift of giving this Christmas.
I can tell you this, every Christmas I think about the first year I practiced my own teaching. Together with my co-host at the time, Mr. Jim Kirkwood, using our radio show and my friends at South Jordan Police Department, we urged our listeners to help us feed the local shelter, to obtain the food and gifts for the homeless in Salt Lake City. We fed the shelter on that evening and we had gift bags containing everything from hygiene items to winter socks for all. I watched as uniformed officers delivered food trays and gift bags to a large crowd, and then one big scruffy fellow stood.
The man was huge and powerful looking. He spoke in a deep booming voice and what he said brought tears to many eyes. I wished I had recorded the event, but I must rely on my memory. His words paraphrased went like this, “I have been hassled by you cops so many times and yet here you are feeding me and giving me gifts. I have had bad thoughts about you all, but tonight I just want to hug you. I am so grateful and you can’t know how much this means to all of us. I will never see a police uniform the same again. Thank you!”
I can tell you this as well, no officer there that evening will ever see the homeless quite the same way again.
NY Time Bestselling Author of Choices and Illusions