By Nicki Isaacs
BA(Hons) MPsych MAPS, Psychologist
What is the “magic answer” to the perennial question “What makes us happy?”
Perhaps a little “unhappily” for some, we don’t have a simple answer.
However, considerable research has been conducted into what makes us happy. There are various articles throughout the Million Acts of Kindness website which explain how you can maximise your chances of achieving happiness through specific thoughts and actions.
It is important to note that people’s definitions, expectations and experience of “happiness” is subjective and personal. But there are many general suggestions which contribute to happiness.
These include but are not restricted to:
• A positive and optimistic attitude
• Choosing to be happy
• Being kind to others
• Good physical health
• Job satisfaction (whether that be paid employment , education, unpaid work at home etc)
• Some financial stability (not necessarily wealth)
• Good self esteem
• Laughter, fun and humour
• Having a purpose
• Setting of realistic goals and working to achieve them
• Spiritual fulfilment
As noted above, an important aspect of happiness is kindness to others. This seems to be both a cause and a consequence of happiness.
Research has shown that when both children and adults are happier, they tend to display more sensitivity to people in need, are more willing to help others and to (eg) donate money. The conclusions drawn from this are that happier people are more willing to be kind. When we are unhappy we are more likely to focus on ourselves and perceive others in a negative way. Conversely, when we are happy, we are less preoccupied with ourselves and are more comfortable sharing our perceived good fortune both with loved ones and strangers.
Importantly, and relevant to our question of what makes us happy is the notion that kindness also CONTRIBUTES to happiness!
Various studies have shown that performing kind acts can actually boost our feelings of happiness. A “helper’s high” has been used to describe the feeling many experience when they have usefully assisted someone in need.
When we are kind to others our social relationships are likely to improve. This is an important predictor of happiness. Being kind can also help a person increase their optimism, goals and sense of identity; all important building blocks of happiness.
Interestingly, a recent study suggested that performing a variety of kind acts is important for overall happiness. Comparisons were made between subjective reports of happiness after performing different types of kind acts versus the same one act of kindness on repeated occasions. It was found that those who performed the numerous varied acts were happier. Therefore, when you are kind, strive to be so in various different ways.
We can see that people who are generally happier are more willing to be kind to others. And….being kind is essential for personal happiness. Let’s all perform acts of kindness to both ourselves and others and see how much happier we can feel.
Yours in happiness,