The Secret of Happiness? Helping Others
The secret of happiness is helping others. Author Bill Shore says that people are often unhappy with their job and are looking for something more. They want to do “something that counts”.
Philanthropy is one of the biggest factors in long-term life satisfaction. Other things we can do that make us feel good often just bring us short-term satisfaction.
I’d always known that to help others is a good thing, but the person who really hit it home for me was Dr. Martin Seligman, the former head of the American Psychological Association, in his TED talk called, “The New Era of Positive Psychology”.
In his TED talk he describes how science has confirmed that helping others is the best indicator of long-term life satisfaction. (I’m guessing there are exceptions to the rule for that, but for most people this would be true. Also I would guess that helping animals or the environment would do the same.)
And what is the best way to help others, Seligman says? By using our gifts.
We all have things that we are good at. And these skills often give us a lot of pleasure. So why not use these skills we love and put them to good use? That, my friend, is the secret to happiness. Seligman talks about how using our gifts that give us pleasure can give us what is called a state of “flow”. “Flow” occurs when we become so engrossed in an activity that time seems to fly by.
We all have dreams for our life. We always question whether we should go down this road or that road. We are constantly asking questions about what we should do, from the very mundane to the existential.
“Should I buy chocolate or vanilla?”
“Should I watch this commercial right now or get up and close the window?”
“Should I move to the other side of the planet and start a new life there?”
“Should I marry this person?”
But how do we know whether we’re asking the right questions? What if we get bogged down in choosing between options that shouldn’t even be on the list? What if we had other options that would give us a better life?
What kind of options are on your list? Are you choosing the right ones?
Perhaps you could consider helping others as an option for you. Maybe right not today. Maybe today, but take some time to think about this. This could be a lifelong decision for you. Don’t rush into it.
What if you say, yes, you’d like to help others more? How would you go about doing that? Where would you start? You can do this full-time or you can do this part-time. Or you can do this on the side as a hobby. Or you could volunteer for a worthy cause.
Rick Hansen, the Canadian who wheelchaired around the world for spinal cord injuries, said that to create change in the world, attach to a cause larger than yourself and work towards that.
Another good resource to encourage you to give to a cause is the book “The Life You Can Save: How to Do Your Part to End World Poverty” by Peter Singer. Granted there are thousands of organizations in the world looking for help for any number of reasons, there are also millions of people in poverty who aren’t in the same state with the rest of the world in terms of standard of living.
I can’t tell you what to do with your life at all or what cause to choose. I do think that it would be nice if more people tried to help people who needed it the most. Some people are suffering miserably, often with solutions that are quick and inexpensive but unavailable to them because of where they were born.
One of the easiest ways to start giving is by making donations in people’s names for birthday and Christmas gifts. We all have a relatively small number of gifts we buy for people every year — and they are usually the same people. Most of us aren’t buying gifts for 100 people every year. My personal circle is about a dozen people. Try making a donation in someone’s name as a birthday or Christmas gift. You can do this for some or for all of the people on your list.
In North America, most people spend about $20 to $30 on a gift for someone. It is sometimes more or less than that, but I would say those are typical amounts. Say you spend $25 on donations in 10 people’s names for their birthdays and for Christmas gifts, that is $500 you’ve donated to charity. If you do this for 10 years, that adds up to $5,000. If you do this for 50 years, that adds up to $25,000.
Aside from birthday and Christmas gifts, another good option is volunteering.
You could also try fate funding. Fate funding is something you can do when you don’t know what your passion is or what cause to donate to. From day to day, fate will present with people asking you to donate to them. From people in the street to when you’re at a store, people will keep asking you to help them.
With fate funding you donate to those who cross paths with you. I heard about this method of giving from Brendon Burchard, entrepreneur and author of “The Millionaire Messenger”.
How much money should you donate? Churches encourage their members to donate, or “tithe”, at least 10% of their income. That might be something you could aim for. However, Americans donate about 2% on average. Ironically, the wealthiest Americans donate 1.3% and the poorest donate 3.2%.
What if you can make some sort of a living from helping others? Part-time or full-time jobs are a bigger decision to make, so give it some thought. But many jobs exist in this field. It’s not like it’s a small market.
In the book “What Colour is Your Parachute: A Practical Manual for Job-Hunters and Career-Changers”, author Richard N. Bolles describes how finding your calling in life is often the intersection of two things. He says your true path in life can be found where what you do best (where time seems to stop for you) intersects with what with the world needs the most.
Then there’s Ikagai, a Japanese term that roughly translates to “reason for being”. You find your Ikagai where 4 things overlap: what you’re good at, what you absolutely love doing, what the world needs, and what you can be paid for.
And to perhaps throw you off a bit, there’s the quote by Howard Thurman: “Don’t ask yourself what the world needs. Ask yourself what makes you come alive, and go do that, because what the world needs is people who have come alive.”
Once you start helping others and making philanthropy a part of your life, one thing you can do is keep track of your efforts. In business they say if you can’t measure it, you can’t improve it. Try tallying up the changes you’ve made with your philanthropy efforts and see how you do from year to year and month to month. See if you can improve it.
Buy a nice log book and add up how much money you’ve donated, or how much time/effort you’ve volunteered, or how many goats you’ve bought for families in developing countries, etc. Use any metric that is appropriate for you and see if you can improve it next year.
In the book “Tribe of Mentors”, author Timothy Ferriss interviews a man who has achieved a large amount of success. The man says that for most of his life he focused on becoming very successful. At some point, however, he started to change his focus by trying to make other people successful, not himself. The paradox is that by doing so, he became even more successful than he was before.
How much do you try to make other people successful? Is there any way you can do more of that? Try starting small and work up from there.
Today it has never been easier to start a business with little to no overhead, thanks to the Internet. While this may seem daunting to some, Scott Fox in “Click Millionaires” does a really good job of simplifying the process for you.
The book has a whole chapter on the biggest stumbling block for a lot of people — how to get started when you feel like you’re not qualified to put your words and advice out into the world.
Also, you can have a website or a blog up for free in minutes. You can have social media accounts up for free in minutes. You can have a YouTube channel up for free in minutes.
By putting your thoughts, ideas and advice on display for others using these methods, it is possible for you to make a decent living, a good side-gig or even millions of dollars.
Does the thought of making millions of dollars scare you? Or do you think making millions is just plain greedy? Think of how many people could have their pain and suffering end from millions of dollars — millions of dollars made by you. You don’t have to keep the millions for yourself — you can give it all away!
By advocating for those who need help, starting a nonprofit, creating a social business or simply working for an already existing social entity, you can help make a better world for other people (or animals, or the environment).
I have found Scott Fox’s book one I recommend a lot to other people.
Making the world a better place can make you very happy. At the end of your life, you can look back on it and think, “Yeah, I did that. Life gave me opportunities and I didn’t sit on the sidelines. I took chances and tried to do things. I didn’t take the easy way out. I went after the things I wanted. I went after my dreams.” You can say that.
– Joni Eareckson Tada: “I have discovered many good things that have come from my disability. I used to think happiness was a Friday night date, a size 12 dress, and a future with Ethan Allen furniture and 2.5 children. Today I know better. What matters is love: warm, deep, real, personal love with a neighbour, a husband, a sister, an aunt, a nurse or an attendant. It’s people who count.”