Giving Your Way to Happiness Article of the Week August 7-11, 2017
The World Health Organization defines wellness as “ a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being, not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. To be truly healthy, you can't just be free of disease and enjoy good physical health. It is also important to be healthy socially and enjoy good relationships with others. The third component is mental health. While everyone has up and down days, it is equally important to be healthy mentally and live a happy life free from anxiety and depressive thoughts.
I was pondering this triad of health requirements as I read an article that pertained to happiness. Since 2012 a global Happiness Report has been ranking 155 countries according to which nations are the happiest in the world. The good news is that Canada has ranked consistently in the top 10 and was ranked number 7 this year!
So what are the pre-requisites of happiness? What priorities do the countries that are the happiest have in place? The qualities most associated with happiness were described as “caring, freedom, generosity, honesty, health, income and good governance”. Good health and financial security are two qualities that I assumed would be associated with happiness. Some of the others on this list got my attention, particularly generosity.
The next thing I found out was that there was a specific study that was done at the University of Zurich, Switzerland this year that looked at the topic of generosity and happiness. In this study, the authors divided a group of people up and told half of them to spend money on themselves, and the other half to spend money on others. Next, they did MRI scans on these people's brains and found that the regions of the brain that are responsible for happiness were much more stimulated in the group that spent money on others!
I love the implications of this study. Too often we focus on self when we are feeling blue, and our instinct might be to buy or do something for ourselves to change our mood. We feel that “getting” will be a faster path to happiness than “giving”. We may feel that sacrificing our time or money on others will leave us in a less fulfilled position, however, the exact opposite seems to be true!
What's even better is that the mirror emotion of generosity is gratitude. When we are generous, the subject of our generosity is likely to feel grateful. Interestingly, gratitude is a quality that has been studied extensively and also found to be an integral part of happiness. Not to mention, being generous can inspire generosity in others and create a cycle of good will and altruism.
It should be noted that the authors of this Swiss study said that the amount of money spent in giving, or the gesture did not seem to matter. Simple things like buying coffee for your co-worker (see last week's article of the week for more on coffee), or even being generous with your time seemed to be equally beneficial in generating thoughts and feelings of happiness.
This week, I want you to think of a way that you can be generous above and beyond what you already may give. And then, I want you to notice the emotions associated with your act of kindness.
Have a Happy Week!
ps – for those of you with computers that want to see the full study on generosity and happiness, go to the following link: