Looking beyond the mantras and prayers…why active giving may be the missing piece to your happiness project

At a glimpse: I’ve come to find that these types of resources that focus on trusting the universe/God/spirit and visualizing what we want in life in order to reach happiness, neglect the importance of action, especially when it comes to giving to others.

Positive Psychology: the scientific study of the strengths that enable individuals and communities to thrive. The field is founded on the belief that people want to lead meaningful and fulfilling lives, to cultivate what is best within themselves, and to enhance their experiences of love, work, and play.

Psychology has always been a favorite subject of mine, understanding how the mind works and how we can train our thoughts to influence our behavior fascinates me. Lately, I’ve been especially interested in self-help books and articles discussing happiness. I’ve incorporated many of the meditations and suggestions from great books such as Gabby Bernstein’s, The Universe Has Your Back and I often abide by, to a certain extent, the law of attraction, which I learned in the popular film The Secret.  However, I’ve come to find that these types of resources that focus on trusting the universe/God/spirit and visualizing what we want in life in order to reach happiness, neglect the importance of action, especially when it comes to giving to others.

It was during a random visit to a church service this past weekend (my father’s orders or as I should probably think of it, a sign from the universe) when I realized how many of the self-improvement tips out there are missing the vital concept of generosity - the quality of being kind and giving. During this service, hearing the priest speak about generosity was like a breath of fresh air after repeatedly reading self-help books tell me how to “send good vibrations and peace to the world”. Look, I’m all for meditation and I truly do believe that people give off certain energies that can spread to others, however, I need much more than this in order to live a meaningful life of fulfillment. Simply sitting in a pretty pilates posture humming mantras and meditating on how I wish recycling was a greater part of the culture in this city, or how I wish homelessness would vanish once and for all isn’t going to cut it. I have to actually DO something to feel like I’m making a difference, whether it be reaching out to local restaurants advising on waste reduction efforts, or asking a local non-profit how I can help in connecting the homeless with job training services, these are the actions, as minor as they may be, that have helped me sleep at night.

You see, I could feel satisfied with my health, family/friends, travels, etc., but unless I’m working to make a positive mark on this world, I won’t feel at peace with myself, and that’s the ultimate goal of all the self-help talk, no?  

To varying extents, I agree with the popular notion that all humans, regardless of class, have an intrinsic sense of compassion and desire to give to others.  This notion of “happiness running in a circular motion”[1] seems to be undervalued. Maybe if more of us honed in on this intrinsic drive and sought to give selflessly, thinking beyond our own lives by helping others, we could make one big step towards inner peace and happiness.

More on this from The Guide to Happiness, by Mark Manson:

“One Harvard Business School study found that giving to charity made people happier regardless of their country, how much money they gave, or even WHY they gave it. For instance, someone buying a gift for their sister created the same amount of happiness as giving a different amount of money to a homeless person. The theory goes that it’s not actually giving something away that makes us happy — it’s having perspective outside of ourselves that does. Research shows that keeping a journal, and writing down what one is grateful for in their life, both lead to greater levels of baseline happiness.[2]  It’s because these actions force us to cultivate a greater perspective other than just ourselves and our superficial desires.”

 

[1] Aknin, L. B., Dunn, E. W., & Norton, M. I. (2012). Happiness runs in a circular motion: Evidence for a positive feedback loop between prosocial spending and happiness. Journal of Happiness Studies, 13(2), 347–355.

[2] Emmons, R. A., & McCullough, M. E. (2003). Counting blessings versus burdens: An experimental investigation of gratitude and subjective well-being in daily life. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 84(2), 377–389.