Helpful Happiness

A sentence I read in an online article triggered some questions. Actually the entire article provoked a good bit of thought about the human condition. The specific sentence that prompted me to write this post is this: “There is a good deal of research showing that doing things that are helpful and kind for other people seems to be beneficial to your own happiness.”

I can attest to the truth in that statement.  When I help someone else in some way, it gives me a bit of a lift.  When I’m especially kind to someone, I feel better about myself and I am happier for it.  But it made me wonder why, in light of that truth, we (humans) don’t spend more of our time and more of our resources on helping and being kind to other people?  Why, if being helpful and kind bring about happiness, aren’t we more helpful and kinder?  What is it that causes us to be unhelpful and unkind?

The remainder of the article addressed the way in which we spend our money can influence our happiness.  Buying a bigger, fancier house doesn’t make us happy.  But buying a nice dinner out can.  Spending on experiences, rather than spending on “things,” is the way to “buy happiness.”   I can attest to the truth in that, as well.

Again, the questions.  Why, then, do people buy more house than they can afford?  Why do people get into credit card debt?  Do they think they will be happier if they buy “stuff?”  I have been guilty of wanting stuff.  And I’m still guilty.  But I understand that the stuff won’t make me happy.  It might make me more comfortable or it might make for a more pleasurable experience, e.g., a softer sofa may feel better than a harder one, but it won’t make me happy.

Happiness does, indeed, come from within.  But it’s based on interactions with others.  Helping others.  Being good to others.  I’ve heard it all my life; now, more than ever, I’m able to fully understand and appreciate and agree with this statement (which has apparently been erroneously attributed to Winston Churchill): “You make a living by what you get; you make a life by what you give.”

After I had posted this, I came across a post on Facebook that is apropos:  Set your heart on doing good. Do it over and over again, and you will be filled with joy. ―  Buddha

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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3 Responses to Helpful Happiness

  1. bev says:

    It’s interesting to me that since Don died, I don’t feel happiness too easily – the usual things that should make be feel happy don’t work. However, doing things to help out other people seems to make me feel better. I can’t say that doing things makes me happy, but I do feel better – as though at least something has been salvaged from what would otherwise best be described as a life that has becom – oh – something of a mess, I suppose.

  2. Bob, that’s it…exactly! It feels good to do good! I just don’t understand why we don’t make our selves feel good more often by doing good! It’s an odd life, I suppose, a very odd life. Thanks for reading my ranting, and for commenting. That makes me feel good!

  3. bobseiler22 says:

    John,

    Unfortunately many things in our current society encourages people, and rewards them in some twisted way, to be selfish and greedy. Seems as though much of the “Me first! Me first!” squeals on a childhood playground have not been left behind.

    I too can attest to the fact that doing good things can make you feel good. Yesterday was an oppressively hot day here, and at the peak of the heat one of our smoke alarm batteries started chirping, so I needed to venture out for a new battery. On a corner near us was a Hispanic gentleman selling strawberries and cherries. Even though he was in the shade, it was, as I said, oppressive. So I pulled over and asked him if he had water (Tiene agua?). He did not speak English but reached out as if he was really parched. I tried to explain that I didn’t have any water with me but I would get some for him. So I bought some cold water and on the way home passed it to him and he was grateful. And I felt good.

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