“We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give.”
– Winston Churchill
Doing things for others – whether small, unplanned acts or regular volunteering – is a powerful way to boost our own happiness as well of those around us. The people we help may be strangers, family, friends, colleagues or neighbors. They can be old or young, nearby or far away.
Giving isn’t just about money, so you don’t need to be rich. Giving to others can be as simple as a single kind word, smile or a thoughtful gesture. It can include giving time, care, skills, thought or attention. Sometimes these mean as much, if not more, than financial gifts.
Scientific studies show that helping others boosts happiness. It increases life satisfaction, provides a sense of meaning, increases feelings of competence, improves our mood and reduced stress. It can help to take our minds off our own troubles too.
Kindness towards others is be the glue which connects individual happiness with wider community and societal wellbeing. Giving to others helps us connect with people and meets one of our basic human needs – relatedness.
Kindness and caring also seem to be contagious. When we see someone do something kind or thoughtful, or we are on the receiving end of kindness, it inspires us to be kinder ourselves. In this way, kindness spreads from one person to the next, influencing the behaviour of people who never saw the original act. Kindness really is the key to creating a happier, more trusting local community.
Science shows there are strong associations between happiness and helping others. Firstly, happiness helps helping. Happy people are more likely to be interested in or be inclined towards helping others. They are more likely to have recently performed acts of kindness or spent a greater percentage of their time or money helping others.
There appears to be a relationship between happiness and helping others at every age:
- Pre-school children who displayed empathy were more likely to have happy moods
- High school students who said they experienced intense positive feelings were more likely to be involved in community service activities such as volunteering
- Working adults who were happier at work were more likely to help others
- Volunteering has also been related to many benefits for senior citizens, including greater happiness and life satisfaction.
Volunteering is also related to increased happiness irrespective of the socio-economic situation of the volunteer. What’s more people who give a proportion of their monthly income to chartable causes or spent it on gifts for others were found to be happier than people who did not spend on others, and this was regardless of income level.